ELLSWORTH, Maine — Because of low catch rates and to improve flexibility and safety, Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery regulators have expanded the number of fishing days each week, according to state officials.
In a prepared statement released Friday afternoon, the Maine Department of Marine Resources indicated that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has decided to add two days per week to the Gulf of Maine shrimp trawl fishery. According to DMR, shrimp trawlers will be allowed to fish on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, effective immediately and until further notice.
In addition, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher has reduced the hours on each fishing day for the trawl fishery to between 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Before Friday’s announcement, trawling had been allowed round the clock but only two days a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The target limit this year for northern shrimp is 625 metric tons, less than a quarter of what it was for the 2012 season. Six hundred and twenty-five metric tons is equal to nearly 1.4 million pounds.
Trawlers are allowed to land 87 percent of the 625 metric-ton total and trappers are allowed 13 percent. Each fishery will close when 85 percent of its total allowable catch is projected to be reached, DMR officials have said.
DMR indicated that the change in hours for trawlers was recommended by Maine Marine Patrol “to decrease the potential for gear conflict between trawl nets and trap lines set by lobstermen and shrimp trappers, more likely to occur at night.”
According to the department, shrimp trappers also have more days per week that they are allowed to fish. They are allowed to haul traps at any time of day six days a week Monday through Saturday, but are limited to catching a maximum of 500 pounds per day. The season for the shrimp trap fishery began Feb. 5.
“These decisions provide ample opportunity for trawlers and trappers to land their seasonal quota but reflect our commitment to balancing the financial needs and the safety of fishermen,” Keliher said in the release.
According to information posted on the DMR website, preliminary estimates indicate that nearly 148,000 pounds of Gulf of Maine shrimp were caught in the first two weeks of the shrimp trawling season, which began on Jan. 23. During those two weeks, more than 100 licensed shrimp boats were active in the fishery, with 88 of them based out of Maine, 12 in New Hampshire and six in Massachusetts.
The average price shrimp fishermen were paid for their catch was $1.45 per pound in the first week but has increased to $1.60 per pound in the second week, according to DMR. Statistical estimates for this past week were unavailable Friday.
Only a few years ago the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery was considered one of the few brights spots in the Northeast commercial fishing industry, but declining catches over the past few years have been attributed to overfishing, warmer ocean temperatures and falling population growth rates, officials have said.
Catch limits have been decreased in each of the previous three seasons, from 10.8 million pounds in 2010 to 8.8 million pounds in 2011 and then to 4.9 million pounds last year. In each of those years, the fishery was shut down weeks earlier than the traditional ending time in mid-April.