Shrimping hours expanded, season end date set

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission expanded shrimp fishing hours, set a season end date of April 12, and, for the trap fishery, decided to remove the daily limit of 500 pounds, the Maine Department of Marine Resources said.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission expanded shrimp fishing hours, set a season end date of April 12, and, for the trap fishery, decided to remove the daily limit of 500 pounds, the Maine Department of Marine Resources said. Buy Photo
Posted March 11, 2013, at 6:23 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Due to low catches of northern shrimp, which officials say may be a result of relatively warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, hours in the fishery are being expanded, according to officials.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission also set a season end date of April 12 and, for the trap fishery, decided to remove the daily limit of 500 pounds, the Maine Department of Marine Resources said.

With the changes, trap fishermen will be able to harvest as many shrimp as they can bring ashore in one trip. If the season lasts until the chosen ending date, it will be the first time it has lasted past the end of February since 2010.

DMR issued a prepared statement indicating that ASMFC voted on Friday to allow fishing seven days a week for both trawlers and trappers. The new hours go into effect on Wednesday, March 13.

Currently, trawlers are limited to fishing four days a week — Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays — while trappers can harvest shrimp any day of the week except Sunday, according to DMR.

In addition, DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher decided to allow shrimp trawlers to fish each day from sunrise to sunset. Hours for trawlers have been restricted from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the four allowed fishing days each week. Other shrimp fishing rules expected to go into effect on March 13 include restricting individual fishermen to using either traps or trawl nets, but not both, and bringing shrimp ashore only once per calendar day.

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.

Declining catches in the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery — which only a few years ago was considered one of the few brights spots in the northeast commercial fishing industry — have been attributed to overfishing, warmer ocean temperatures and falling population growth rates, officials have said.

According to preliminary landings statistics compiled by DMR, 246 metric tons or more than 540,000 pounds have been harvested by trawlers in the Gulf of Maine over the first six weeks of the shrimp trawling season, which began on Jan. 23. One hundred and fifty boats have been active in the fishery this winter, with around 120 of them based out of Maine and the remainder split evenly between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, according to DMR officials.

In the smaller shrimp trap fishery, which began on Feb 5, more than 27,000 pounds, or 12.5 metric tons, have been harvested over the past four weeks. Forty-three trap vessels have been active in the fishery this season, all of them from Maine, according to DMR.

The average price per pound that fishermen were getting for their catch was around $1.50 in late January but since then has increased steadily to around $2, DMR statistics indicate.

The rules changes are the latest of several that have been implemented since the season began. At the outset, shrimp trawling was allowed only two days a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, before the allowable fishing days per week were increased last month.

In 2010, shrimp fishermen from the three states harvested more than 13 million pounds, even though federal regulators had set a limit of roughly 10.8 million pounds. In 2011 the limit was reduced to 8.8 million, but still shrimpers brought about 13 million pounds ashore before it was all added up. Last year, regulators limited the total season catch to 4.9 million pounds but that limit also was overrun, by as much as 1 million pounds, officials have said.

Because of those high landings, the season was closed three weeks early in 2010 and six weeks ahead of schedule in 2011. Last year the season lasted six weeks, ending in mid-February instead of the formerly traditional ending time in spring.

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