Maine shrimp trapping 101 ... in Sweden

Mon, 02/08/2016 - 8:30am

    Tim Simmons of Boothbay just returned from a week in Sweden. As interesting and exciting as he said it was, it wasn't a vacation. He was invited to go by his friend, crustacean scientist Matz Bergen, to give a seminar to teach Swedish scientists and fishermen the fine art of trapping shrimp.

    Simmons, who owns T& D Variety on Route 27 in Boothbay, is president of the Maine Shrimp Trappers Association and is a shrimp trapper. He said Bergen reached out to him with an invitation from the Swedish government and other crustacean scientists from Fiskebäckskil and Lysekil, at the mouth of the Gullmar Fjord.

    Swedes have always trawled for shrimp. Simmons said Bergen, who he has known for two years, contacted him because he knows Maine has been very successful with trapping shrimp. Now they want to try their hand at it.

    Twenty-five scientists and fishermen were present for Simmons’ seminar. “I did a two-hour presentation with a question and answer session,” he said. “We talked about how our trawlers and trappers fish side by side, and there would be a lot of give and take, but I was sure they could do the same thing.”

    Included in the group was a father and daughter fishing team from Oslo, Norway, Harald and Helene Kristoffersen. Helene wrote in an email, “We started our fishing for shrimps with traps in 2014, but have so far been unsuccessful. We believe that the information and experience that Tim Simmons ... cleared a whole lot of problems that we have encountered so far and we look forward to modifying our equipment and methods ... The valuable information that Tim brought with him might be helpful to the future fisheries in Norway. We hope that we can learn more about this selective and more ‘green’ way of harvesting from the sea.”

    The Swedes and Norwegians came up with four different types of traps in preparation. Simmons said one of them is similar to the ones used here. “They had been online checking out pictures of shrimp traps to learn how to set them up. They had them built in China.”

    Swedish marine scientist Peter Ljungberg said via email that Simmons’ visit was a boon. “As Sweden has no trapping for shrimp yet, Tim coming here was very fruitful for the start-up of our shrimp trapping project. Maine fishermen have been trapping shrimp since the ’60s, and have a huge know-how regarding all issues in the start up. Having someone on board who knows the procedures gives an advantage, as you don’t have to go through the entire trial-and-error part yourself. His coming here gave us input on several aspects in the fishing process: Proper fishing depth and areas, the construction of pot entrances and placing of bait containers. Moreover it was interesting to have Tim’s seminar about the shrimp fisheries in Maine regarding rules and regulations, as well as the procedures and culture around fishing around the globe.”

    The first day Simmons got out on a boat in Sweden, the fishermen already had some of their new traps in the water. “They had four strings, with ten traps each,” he said. “I watched what they were doing and gave them some pointers. We went back the next day to see if my suggestions made any difference. The first string we hauled, they doubled the shrimp they had done the day before.”

    Simmons said the bait used for shrimp trapping differs between here and Sweden. Here we use three different kinds of bait. The Swedes use mostly herring. “I suggested they try using mackerel, or herring, and pogies, because they work well together.”

    On his third day there, Simmons said they took a close-up look at the traps they were using. One of the differences was the lack of bricks, for ballast, in the bottoms of the traps. He told them they should consider using bricks. “The idea of the ballast is to help keep the traps upright.”

    Simmons made some more suggestions, and said they got the traps looking and working like the ones used here.

    According to Simmons, the shrimp in Sweden are as in demand as here in Maine, and around the U.S., but in Sweden the fishermen trawl year-round. ”They're not getting as many as we normally are, even now, but they don't have a season,” he said.

    Along with shrimp, Swedish trawlers also drag for crayfish in the Gullmar Fjord. Both shrimp and crayfish fetch a good price. “One of the fishermen took eight pounds of crayfish, around 20, to a dock there and got $18 per pound,” Simmons said. “That was just at the dock. Who knows what it would retail for.”

    Swedish shrimp look, and are, just like Maine shrimp. The crayfish, larger than shrimp, are called Norwegian lobster. The Swedish lobsters are called European lobsters, and are very similar to ours here in Maine.

    Simmons said there were no bridges around the area he was in. It required a ferry to get across the fjord that he crossed daily. “We were going down the road 50 miles an hour, and all of a sudden we slow down to 30, and we were on the boat!” he said. “It's cool. The ramps to the ferries are just like roads. There are red stoplights, and when they turn green, you go – and you're on the ferry.”

    Simmons hopes some of his Swedish friends can make the trip to Maine in the near future. “There's a lot of enthusiasm with them to come over here. Maybe as we move forward with DMR (Department of Marine Resources) and Sweden we can work something out. We could share expenses.”

    He’d said he’d like to repay the Swedes’ hospitality. “They were great hosts. Anything I wanted or needed, they made sure I got it.”

    See related story here.