PORTLAND, Maine — Members of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission will meet Thursday in Portland to review the most recent stock assessment and make recommendations on whether Maine will see a shrimp season next year for the first time since 2013.
Initial indications from both federal and state surveys are that the shrimp population is in no better shape than any of the past five years.
“Spawning stock biomass and total abundance remain low, with little sign of recovery,” Toni Kerns, an ASMFC fishery management plans coordinator, wrote in an email about the shrimp population in the Gulf of Maine.
Fifty years ago, fishermen caught 11,000 metric tons of Maine shrimp. But the numbers steadily decreased and, by 2012, the catch was down to 2,185 metric tons. Then, even that bottom dropped out, and in 2013 fishermen brought in only 255 metric tons, prompting complete closure of the fishery other than a small “research set-aside” that in 2018 totaled 13.3 tons, the Press Herald reported.
Trends include the lowest abundance and biomass numbers in more than three decades, ASMFC told the Gloucester Times last month.
And Maggie Hunter, lead shrimp scientist for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said the inshore trawl survey conducted every spring and fall by the Maine DMR and New Hampshire Fish and Game found “very low” numbers as well.
But Maine’s shrimp fishermen, facing a sixth consecutive barren season, are calling the survey process by the ASMFC a “sham” and say the entire process to measure the recovery of Maine shrimp should be overhauled.
“We have no faith in this survey,” said Spencer Fuller of Arctic Pride Foods in Freeport, also a member of the Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel that will meet in November to decide on a potential 2019 season. “The industry as a whole has no faith in this survey. I don’t even think the commissioner [Patrick Keliher, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources] has much faith in the survey.”
On Wednesday, Keliher said through DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols that he would discuss the issues he has with the survey at Thursday’s meeting.
Currently, federal data are collected by staff on a research vessel. Fuller said he’s heard data weren’t collected from a significant number of stations, and he argued that the research vessel isn’t able to collect data from 90 to 100 fathoms — which is where groundfishermen this year reported seeing “a large volume of shrimp,” he said.”
Fuller said shrimp fishermen are united in hoping for a new approach to information gathering.
“We strongly recommend that they get these surveys done on commercial vessels with people who know what they’re doing, who know the gear and whose vessels are capable of fishing at 100 fathoms,” he said.
“In the past, what we’ve seen is the survey boat has not been run correctly, and that they’re not fishing with the gear correctly,” Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, said Wednesday. “If we do ever want to have a shrimp season again, we have to have the best available science to figure out what the assessment is.”
Hunter said the DMR has heard complaints about the way federal research is conducted, and said this summer’s survey, between bad weather and equipment breakdowns “was disappointing.”
But she said it’s harder to argue with state and federal data both showing that the shrimp population has not recovered.
On Thursday, the ASMFC Northern Shrimp Section will meet at the Maine Historical Society to review findings of the 2018 assessment, peer-review the assessment and make recommendations for the coming year.
In November, the Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel will review the assessment and make recommendations on a 2019 season.
“This is by far the worst managed fishery in this country,” Fuller said. “There is no other fishery that’s been shut down for five years. … I hope between now and November, the state is going to come up with an approach to secure us some type of season.”
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