Maine shrimp lovers are hoping for the best this winter. With the shrimp population in decline over the past few years, and the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery being closed for the third season in a row to shrimp trappers and trawlers, there won't be much Maine shrimp in markets, restaurants or on dinner tables again this year.
But thanks to a study being conducted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, four trawlers and two trappers have been selected to collect samples of northern shrimp from the Gulf of Maine.
Marine biologists will use the data to determine the timing of the egg hatch, and the size, gender and developmental stage of the shrimp, according to biologist Margaret Hunter of the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). A total catch of 48,500 pounds from the Gulf of Maine is being allowed. Any shrimp not used in the study may be sold by the fishermen.
Each participating trawler is required to conduct five research trips in one region, and is being compensated $500 per trip. Each would be allowed to sell up to 1,800 pounds of shrimp per trip.
The two shrimp-trapping vessels are required to continue hauling until the shrimp have hatched off all their eggs. Each is allowed 40 traps, and may haul as often as necessary during the project, with a 600-pound weekly catch limit. The shrimp may be sold, but there will be no other compensation for the trappers.
Despite the best efforts of local trapper Bill Sherburne, as of yet, the shrimp catch has not met his expectations.
As of Feb. 1, Sherburne said he hadn’t done as well as he had hoped. “It makes a difference where the traps are placed. They don't come close to shore until the water cools down.”
But the next day he came back with a relatively good catch, and a lot of the shrimp were surprisingly large. “It’s started looking a little better this week.”
Friendship trapper Rodney Genthner, with 30 traps, pulled in about 65 pounds on his first trip.
Hunter wasn't surprised, or discouraged, about the low numbers. “Shrimp trapping fisheries don't really get going until sometime in February,” she said. “It's been a mixed bag so far, pretty similar to what we did last year. In 2013 trappers from Boothbay and Five Islands didn't do as well as the ones from South Bristol and New Harbor. Location can make a big difference.”
According to Hunter, during the last week in January, Gary Libby from Port Clyde caught 180 pounds; Marshall Alexander, fishing out of Portland, caught 1,100 pounds, and Dana Hammond, from South Bristol, fishing off Pemaquid Point, brought in 1,800 pounds. At the Portland Fish Exchange, the shrimp brought in $7.71 to $8.49 per pound, an average of around $7.89 per pound (in the shell). Harbor Fish Market in Portland was selling them for $10 per pound.
Hunter said she doesn’t think people should rush to conclusions about the shrimp situation. “I would caution people to not read too much into these numbers. This doesn’t mean a lot as far as making conclusions about the abundance of shrimp out there.”
Ed Tibbetts, owner of Atlantic Edge Lobster in Boothbay Harbor, said he's hoping to see more shrimp coming in. He said people should call for prices. “There is a limited supply and I want to get fair market value for the boat.”
“Seafood isn't something I can put a fixed price on,” he said. “The price can go up or down daily, depending on the catch. Crabmeat is around $20 a pound right now. Scallops are around $20.The shrimp are going to be a tiny bit more, but you may not get another shrimp for 10 years. If you want a taste of Maine shrimp, you should get it now.”
On the Atlantic Edge Lobster Facebook page Tibbetts states, “We will have fresh picked shrimp meat and maybe some whole shrimp available during February and March. Call for details. 207-633-2300.”
According to Hunter, the total shrimp catch in 2012 was 5,479,435 pounds. Total landings in 2013 were 761,708 pounds.
“There's a theory that one of the reasons for the decline in shrimp is that temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have been warmer,” she said.
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