PORTLAND, Maine — For the second consecutive winter, there will be no commercial shrimp fishing allowed in the Gulf of Maine.
The decision to enact another moratorium on the fishery — which two years ago had an active fleet of about 150 boats, of which about 120 were Maine-based — was made Wednesday during an Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Portland.
In a prepared statement, the interstate commission said the decision to keep the fishery closed was made after the 2014 stock status report indicated that the current fishable biomass in the gulf is the “lowest on record.” The number of young shrimp in the gulf is believed to have increased in the past year, but those shrimp won’t reach legal harvestable size until 2017.
“The [commission’s] Northern Shrimp Technical Committee considers the stock to have collapsed with little prospect of recovery in the immediate future,” commission officials wrote in the statement.
They added that regulators did approve a 25 metric ton research quota to maintain data collection for assessment and management purposes, which is just over 55,000 pounds.
Increasing water temperatures in the gulf, a decrease in phytoplankton, which shrimp eat, and a rise in predatory populations, such as dogfish, redfish and silver hake, are among the reasons suspected in the decline of the gulf’s shrimp population. Commission officials cited similar reasons last December, when they decided to not to open the winter fishery for the first time in 35 years.
“Northern shrimp stocks in other areas of the world (Greenland, Flemish Cap, Grand Banks) have also seen decreasing trends in abundance and recruitment, providing additional evidence that environmental conditions are impacting northern shrimp across their range,” commission officials wrote in the release.
Annual landings in the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery, which has included boats from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, have fluctuated dramatically over the past 50 years, according to statistics compiled by Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Maine fishermen caught only 125 pounds of northern shrimp in the gulf in 1978, but since then annual landings in the state rose to nearly 18 million pounds in the mid-1990s, then sank below 1 million pounds in 2002, and then rose again to more than 12 million pounds in 2010. The average statewide price was only 10 cents per pound in 1978 but by 2012 it had risen to 95 cents per pound, DMR statistics indicate.
In three of the four years leading up to the moratorium this past winter, catch totals in the fishery exceeded limits that the commission had sought to impose, even though the fishery was closed down earlier than expected in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
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. In 2012, 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.
In 2013, the most recent year the fishery was open, Maine fishermen caught only 563,000 pounds of shrimp in the gulf. The season was not shut down early in 2013 because fishermen in the three states were not able to catch enough shrimp to reach the season quota of nearly 1.4 million pounds.