Will shrimp be back on the menu?

Wed, 11/18/2015 - 7:45am

    Soon, a decision will be formed as to whether or not to open the Gulf of Maine’s shrimp fishery.

    The decision to open or keep closed the fishery will soon be unveiled, as a technical committee will meet this week to make its decision on the stock.

    Margaret Hunter, marine resources scientist at the Department of Marine Resources in Boothbay Harbor, said the long process of whether or not to open the fishery is nearing a decision.

    The northern shrimp fishery, which includes the Gulf of Maine, is managed by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Decisions for the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery are made ASMFC's Northern Shrimp Section, which is comprised of commissioners from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

    Hunter currently sits on the Northern Shrimp Technical Committee along with scientists from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

    Each fall, the TC presents an annual assessment and from that, makes recommendations for the upcoming season. Hunter said in an email that the TC is currently compiling its 2015 report and that the TC will have a webinar Thursday, Nov. 19 to craft its recommendation for the upcoming season.

    “I cannot tell you what our recommendation will be yet; in 2013 and 2014 we recommended no fishery,” she said in an email. “We hope to have our document finalized and out to the public around Nov. 25.”

    Shortly after the release goes out to the public, industry members will have a Dec. 7 meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire at the Urban Forestry Center, where further recommendations are made. On Dec. 7, the Northern Shrimp Section will meet to review all recommendations, take public comments and make the final decision about the 2016 shrimp fishing season.

    In 2014 the fishery was closed for the first time since 1978, and it was again closed in 2015. In 2010 the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp fishery, which consists of landings from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, tallied a catch totaling 6,140 metric tons. In 2011 that number increased to 6,397 metric tons, which was the highest since 1997's 7,119 metric tons. Then, in 2012 the catch shrank to 2,485 metric tons before crashing to 334 metric tons in 2013.

    Hunter said that the decline of the shrimp fishery has a number of likely causes, but chief among them has been the rising temperature of the Gulf of Maine. Hunter said Dr. Anne Richards, a technical committee member from NEFSC did analyses that showed a correlation between the survival rate of young shrimp and the abundance of adult shrimp, which have declined in recent years.

    The shrimp also favor colder water, Hunter said.

    “Starting in about 2000, the temperature affect became more important than parent numbers, and the current low stock abundance is probably being driven by recent warm water temperatures,” she said. “Recent heavy fishing (particularly in 2010 and 2011) may have played a part, as well as a possible decline in food species and increases in shrimp predators, but water temperature is probably having the biggest impact.”