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Trawl in the Gulf of Maine. (Photo Credit: Gulf of Maine Research Institute)

Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery closure stirs up mixed reactions

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Thursday, December 05, 2013, 21:30 (GMT + 9)

Amid controversies as to the shrimp stock depletion, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has decided to close the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery for the first time in 35 years after.

This decision was taken by the Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section after considering reports issued by researchers forecasting the likelihood of the stock extinction with any 2014 catch.

These reports highlight that last winter’s harvest was the smallest after 1978 closure, and take into account a shrimp survey index indicating the stocks were at their lowest level since 1984.

“The Northern Shrimp Technical Committee has considered the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp stock to have collapsed with very little hope for recovery in the near future,” Kelly Whitmore, chairwoman of the committee, told members of a section advisory panel Tuesday morning. “There are no small shrimp around right now. It doesn’t bode well for the future.”

Given this ‘collapse’ of the shrimp stock, the committee urged regulators to perform the 2013 shrimp fishery season closure as well, but the section considered imposing a lower overall catch cap of 625 metric tons, representing a 72 per cent decrease from the allowable catch set for the previous year, Bangor Daily News reported.

Since about 85 to 90 per cent of the annual Gulf of Maine harvest is typically caught by Maine boats, Maine shrimpers will be most affected by the section’s ban, together with fishers from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, who account for the rest of the catch.

Besides, the committee considers there are factors apart from fishing that have contributed to this shrimp stock depletion such as warmer water temperatures, which drive away the phytoplankton on which this species feed and attract more predators like hake.

“We do understand that fishing is not the only source of mortality and that’s not the only reason the stock is so low now,” the Committee’s chairwoman remarked.

On the other hand, other stakeholders in the shrimping industry and on the regulatory board dismissed “the technical committee’s ominous tone and called Whitmore’s report “all doom and gloom.”

For Marshall Alexander, a member of the section advisory panel from Biddeford, the decreased shrimp stock is just a low point in a regular cycle.

In addition, it has also been noted that this reduction in the stock is due to the fact that shrimp populations have moved to colder waters north and east of the Gulf of Maine.

Representatives of the tourist industry expressed their concern about the ban, since coastal Maine restaurants depend on fresh Maine shrimp as a significant attraction for tourists. They are doubtful as to scientific research and feel confident that a small fishery is preferable to no fishery at all. 

Related article:

- Shrimp season is bleak in the Gulf of Maine



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