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Proposed Limits on Shrimping Concern Maine Fishermen
08/10/2011   Reported By: Tom Porter

Fisheries regulators are proposing rules that could make it harder for some Maine fishermen to make a living during the winter months. Northern shrimp provide a winter fishery for hundreds of fishermen. Boats from Maine catch about 90 percent of the annual harvest, with small numbers of boats from New Hampshire and Massachusetts catching the rest. Now there's a proposal to limit access to the fishery.

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Michael Waine is a fisheries management co-ordinator with The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council, which recently drafted some proposed changes to the way that the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp fishery is managed.

He says the proposal is to introduce a limited access rule whereby fishermen who don't have a history of harvesting shrimp may be denied a license to start doing so, come 2013.

"This fishery still remains open access, however the section has put in a control date which is June 7th, 2011. The purpose of that is that participants before that date may be treated differently than participants that come after that date," Waine says.

While Gulf of Maine shrimp populations are not thought to be directly threatened at the moment, Waine says there is concern that the amount of shrimp being caught over the last two years has exceeded the recommended catch limits.

"In 2010, overharvest was roughly 14 percent of the target; and in 2011--this is preliminary because we haven't completed the analysis for this year yet--but preliminary shows it roughly 48 percent over the harvest target," Waine says.

And there's a reason for that overfishing. "In the last couple of years the effort in the shrimp fishery has increased quite a lot in response to better market conditions and better prices, so more people are fishing," says Margaret Hunter, a scientist at the Maine Department of Marine Resources. "The shrimp stock may not be able to withstand that much fishing pressure--we have had a history of being able to overfish the stock and have it collapse. It happened in the late 1970s and again in the late 1990s."

Hunter says the state will probably sell more than 600 shrimping licenses this year. Groundfisherman Glen Libby of Port Clyde says shrimping is an important source of income for many of his colleagues during the winter months.
"Winter's a tough time and everybody's looking to make a buck when there's not much else going on. It's a tough call."

Libby says shrimping currently makes up approximately half his annual salary. "If you look at the groundfish industry, for example, that's pretty well limited right now. You couldn't--most of us couldn't--go year-round. We don't have enough quota, so we really need something like shrimping to fill in the gaps. It's essential."

If the council's proposals are adopted, fishermen who are unable to prove they have a history of catching shrimp may find themselves idle during the shrimping season, which traditionally runs from December to April.

Portland-based lobsterman Willis Spear, who also catches shrimp in the winter, is concerned that such a new rule may unfairly exclude some fishermen. Speaking to MPBN on his cell phone while out lobstering in Casco Bay, he said he hopes the commission will take a long-term view when deciding someone's catch history.

"Not just these little snapshots of two or three years to who qualifies, because there was a couple of years when shrimping was so lousy I had to work in New York on tug boats," he says. "But there was 25 years when I went every year, so who's to say what's right, who's qualified and who's not?"

A lot will clearly depend on what criteria the ASMFC decides to adopt regarding access to the shrimp fishery, and at the moment there is no definitive proposal on what constitutes a fisherman's catch history as of June 7th.
Before making that call, the commission is asking for feedback. The public comment period lasts until the end of September.


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