Interstate fisheries regulators decided Wednesday to continue a moratorium on shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine this winter, according to the spokesman for Maine Department of Marine Resources.
At a meeting in Portland, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s shrimp board voted in favor of extending for another year the moratorium on the northern shrimp fishery, in place since 2013 due to declining stocks.
Maine DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher, representing Maine’s seats on the board, voted against the moratorium. Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the other two states represented on the board, voted in favor of it.
Steve Train, a Maine fisherman from Long Island who sits on the board and favored allowing shrimp fishing this winter, said the vote made him feel like he had been “punched in the stomach.” He said options the board considered Wednesday included conservative potential catch limits, but the other states backed away from those suggestions.
“Pat [Keliher] and I thought we did our best,” Train said, “but we didn’t get it.”
In an emailed statement, Keliher said he was “disappointed” in the outcome. A catch limit of fewer than 500,000 pounds, which the board discussed, would have done “no harm” to the shrimp fishery while providing economic opportunity to fishermen, he said.
In 2010, more than 12 million pounds of northern shrimp were caught in the Gulf of Maine. In 2013, the most recent year the fishery was open, fewer than 600,000 pounds of shrimp were harvested in the gulf.
Some fishermen were optimistic that new management measures being developed by the commission would persuade the board to reopen the fishery. But the board faced competing recommendations from its advisory panel, which wanted fishing to resume, and its separate technical committee, which favored keeping it closed.
Measures under consideration included a requirement that trawlers use new gear to minimize the catch of too-small shrimp; penalties for states that exceed quotas; maximum fishing season lengths; and a new state-by-state allocation program.
Shrimp catches in the Gulf of Maine are historically cyclical, but scientists have said that increasing water temperatures in the gulf are making it harder for shrimp to have long-term prospects. Scientific studies indicate the gulf has been getting warmer at a faster rate than 99 percent of the rest of the world’s oceans.
“Ocean temperatures in western Gulf of Maine shrimp habitat have increased over the past decade and reached unprecedented highs within the past several years,” the board’s technical committee wrote in a report released last week. “This suggests an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp and the need for strong conservation efforts to help restore and maintain a fishable stock.”
Prior to the fishing moratorium, roughly 90 percent of the shrimp harvested in the gulf each year was caught and brought ashore by Maine fishermen. Roughly 250 boats from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire were active in the fishery in 2013.
The board Wednesday did approve a proposal to allow a few selected fishermen to catch shrimp as part of research into the gulf’s shrimp population, setting a season limit of nearly 30,000 pounds. Participating fishermen will be allowed to sell what they catch, but that amount is not considered large enough to sustain a viable commercial fishery.
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