Andrew Taylor, left, and Mike Wiley of Hugo's Restaurant in Portland, where Maine shrimp is an important item on the menu.
Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley are chefs and co-owners of Hugo's Restaurant and the adjoining Eventide Oyster Bar in downtown Portland. Wiley says it's an establishment that prides itself on serving fresh, local seafood.
"You'd be really foolish to say 'no' to the bounty of Casco Bay and everything that the Maine seacoast has to offer," Wiley says, "so we try to sell almost exclusively locally-caught fish."
Which, up until now, of course, has always included locally-caught shrimp. "Shrimp is just one of those treasures in the winter of Maine," says Taylor.
Taylor says the opening of the shrimp season in January is traditionally something they had always looked forward to. Maine shrimp, he says, may not be big - they're about an inch-and-a-half long - but they're delicious.
"You see them on other menus as 'bay shrimp,' and they're the tiny little tails that come in all those salads," Taylor says, "and a lot of those are provided by the state of Maine. They're used frozen all over the country."
Wiley says shrimp have been scarce the last couple of years, but to have to take them off the menu this winter is disappointing.
"It means one less exciting local product to work with," Wiley says. "That's certainly a bit of a drag, but we'd like to see Maine shrimp on menus 10 years from now more than we need to have it on the menu this upcoming year."
Before any seafood arrives at restaurants like Hugo's or Eventide, it's bought fresh at dockside by people like George Parr (left), who's been a wholesale fish dealer in Maine for more than 35 years. He says three years ago, shrimp were abundant and snapped up by customers from out-of-state as well as local restaurants.
"Shrimp, in the past when it was abundant," Parr says, "I would ship probably 12-15 hundred pounds a day into New York."
Parr says the closure of the fishery does not affect him much. He had a chance to prepare after stocks plummeted last winter. So did most of the fishing boats he works with. He says most didn't plan on gearing up for shrimping season, "because they lost so much money last year they couldn't land enough shrimp to pay for the fuel."
More than 500,000 pounds of shrimp was landed in Maine last year, and much of it made its way to processing plants.
Glen Libby is president of Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a co-op run by mid-coast fishermen which also processes its catch and ships directly to customers. Last season, Libby estimates the coop alone shipped out about 5,000 pounds of shrimp. He says the closure of the fishery will be difficult to absorb.
"We're going to try to fill in with other things, you know," he says, "maybe buy some scallops and sell those - we've been trying to do a lot of crabmeat.
Other larger-scale processors are concerned that the closure will make it even harder for Maine shrimp to recover its position in the global market when the fishery is re-opened.
Spencer Fuller is with Cozy Harbor Seafood in Portland. Just three years ago the company was processing thousands of tons of Gulf of Maine shrimp, and sending much of it as far away as Europe.
"It's very difficult, one, to get that shelf space, two, to hold it, but even more difficult to get it back again," Fuller says.
The only way to get back in the market, he says, is to significantly lower the price.
Photos: Tom Porter