2014 shrimping season may be canceled

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Posted Nov. 26, 2013, at 5:10 p.m.

There is a real possibility that Gulf of Maine shrimpers will be forced to the sidelines for the entire 2014 shrimping season because increasingly dire stock assessments indicate the stock was overfished in the previous two seasons.

In a report prepared last week, the Northern Shrimp Technical Committee of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission said it will recommend a total “moratorium on fishing in 2014 to maximize spawning potential” of the Gulf of Maine shrimp population.

If accepted by the Northern Shrimp Section at its meeting next week in Portland, Maine, that recommendation effectively would close down the entire 2014 Gulf of Maine shrimping season before it even begins. The meeting will be held Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the Holiday Inn by the Bay.

That surely would incite opposition from many shrimp fishermen, who already criticize the scope and methodology of the technical committee’s stock assessments. Of the 198 vessels from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire that participated in the fishery last winter, 168 were from Maine.

The Northern Shrimp Section also will hear a recommendation from its scientific advisory panel before setting policy for the upcoming season that would dictate both the fishing schedule and the total allowable catch.

The section also has the latitude to adapt its policies even after the season opens, according to Marin Hawk, fisheries management plan coordinator for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“The section can always revisit their decisions during the season,” Hawk said.

Still, it appears unlikely the section would modify its policy and decide to open the season after initially accepting a recommendation for a complete moratorium on fishing.

The technical committee’s recommendation for the 2014 season is based on data collected in advance of the last three shrimp fishing seasons that show the region’s shrimp stock is at its lowest level since the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission — the multistate regulator for shrimp and other near-shore species — began keeping records.

“Model results for 2012 and 2011 indicate that this stock has collapsed,” the technical committee said in its assessment. “Three successive years of recruitment failure and continuing warm temperatures [in the Gulf of Maine] indicate poor prospects for the near future, both in terms of the fishery and for stock recovery.”

Terry Stockwell, director of external affairs for the Maine Department of Marine Resources and chair of the ASMFC Northern Shrimp Section, said Tuesday that if the committee decided to allow fishing this winter, the harvest limit still likely would be “extremely small.”

Stockwell said warmer water “absolutely” appears to have had an adverse effect on the fishery, though it is not clear whether environmental factors or fishing efforts have played a bigger role. He said it could take two or three cold winters in a row to help boost the gulf’s shrimp population.

“Some cooler winters would help things out,” Stockwell said.

He said that as shrimp catches have decreased in the past three years, the price fishermen have gotten for their catch has increased, from 54 cents per pound in 2010 to around $1.80 per pound last winter, which has given fishermen a strong incentive to catch shrimp.

According to Hawk, the technical committee made a similar recommendation for no fishing heading into last season.

The Shrimp Section opted instead for a drastically shortened season with deep cuts in the total allowable catch. Still, that appeared to do nothing to help restore the size and health of the stock.

“Stock status, as inferred from assessment model estimates, indicate that the stock was overfished and that overfishing occurred in 2012 and 2013,” the technical committee wrote in its report. “This was despite a 72 percent reduction in quota and the institution of other conservative measures in 2013.”

Those measures included a late opening to the season to allow at least 50 percent of the total new-egg hatch to occur.

The 2013 total allowable catch was 625 metric tons in the Gulf Maine. But the 198 vessels from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire that shrimped the season combined to land only 307 metric tons, or 50.8 percent of the allowable catch — the lowest harvest since the fishery was closed altogether in 1978.

Maine landed 83 percent of the Gulf Maine shrimp in 2013, with 255.5 metric tons. New Hampshire was next with 10 percent (31.3 metric tons) and Massachusetts filled out the field with 7 percent (20.3 metric tons).

In 2010, shrimp fishermen from the three states harvested more than 6,140 metric tons, even though regulators had set a limit of roughly 4,900 metric tons. In 2011 the limit was reduced to 4,000 metric tons, but still shrimpers brought about 6,400 metric tons ashore before it was all added up. In 2012, regulators limited the total season catch to 2,100 metric tons but that limit also was overrun by nearly 400 metric tons, 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. In 2012 the season lasted six weeks, ending in mid-February instead of the formerly traditional ending time in mid-April.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Bangor Daily News writer Bill Trotter contributed to this report.

 

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