Maine’s northern shrimp fishery has been closed for seven years and regulators decided Friday to continue the harvest moratorium for another three years with no signs of rebound.
But in a change, officials with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission entertained the idea of opening a small personal-use fishery at the suggestion of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and planned to look into it in the future.
A moratorium was enacted after the northern shrimp stock collapsed in 2013 and has been in place ever since. It is unclear what caused the shrimp’s downturn but recent research suggests that a species of squid that rode into the Gulf of Maine on a historic 2012 heatwave may have played a significant role.
Maine is the southernmost range of the shrimp and the gulf’s warming waters are also suspected to be part of the reason the cold-loving shrimp have struggled to bounce back, even with no commercial fishing for nearly a decade.
“Temperature data continues to show unfavorable conditions for northern shrimp,” said Maggie Hunter, a shrimp biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
Surveys from this summer showed the future of the species wasn’t looking good. Abundance, biomass and the amount of baby shrimp were at a low-point for that time of year.
Officials brought up three options on how to handle the fishery: continuing the moratorium, a small fishery for personal use only, or a limited commercial fishery. The regional commission’s shrimp managers were advised by a supporting committee that any amount of fishing would cause the stock to decline.
Megan Ware, the DMR’s director of external affairs, argued for the personal fishery in which shrimp could be harvested but not sold. Ware requested a two-week season in February with a three-trap limit. Under her plan, a fisherman would be limited to 25 pounds of shrimp per day.
“I’m willing to try a slightly different path here to see where it goes,” she said.
Officials heard Friday that funding for future shrimp surveys was waning and Ware contended that this sort of small-scale harvest could help collect data on the species. Fishermen did note that only a small portion of the shrimp fishery used traps, and the overwhelming majority used trawls, meaning that any potential catch would likely be small.
While officials in New Hampshire and Massachusetts were against the idea and voted instead to continue the current moratorium for another three years, regulators did agree to explore a personal use fishery at some time in the future.