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Cuts to Northern Shrimp Fishery Dismays Maine Industry
12/03/2012   Reported By: Tom Porter

Commercial fishing regulators have approved massive cuts to the New England Shrimp fishery. Members of a key panel of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met in Portland today to discuss the issue. The northern shrimp season gets underway late next month and catch limits have been set at 625 metrics - that's about 1.4 million pounds - which is less than a third of last season's. The drastic meaure was brought about by a recent assessment of the shrimp population by the ASMFC's Technical Committee, which had recommended a complete moratorium on shrimp fishing this winter in the Gulf of Maine. Tom Porter has more.

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Maggie Hunter is a scientist at the Maine Department of Marine Resources. "Nothern shrimp in the Gulf off Maine are in the sourthern most part of their range, they're considered an arctic, subarctic species, and you don't find them south of Cape Cod," Hunter says. "So here in the Gulf they're very susceptible to any changes in temperatures, and we are seeing the Gulf of Maine warming recently."

"I didn't support it. I can't go there, it's still too low," says Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher. "I think environmental factors are having a much bigger impact than whatever mortality levels we set."

Keliher was one of the 3-member Maine delegation meeting Monday as part of the Northern Shrimp Section of the ASMFC.
Maine was outvoted 2-1 on the proposal to cut the catch limit. Keliher had earlier put forward a motion to have the slightly higher limit of 700 metric tons - although, he admitted that either way, it's bad news for the industry this season.

"We're tilting at windmills here now," says fisherman Gary Libby, who was hoping for a limit of just over 800 metric tons. "That would have been better for the industry, but I understand what they're trying to do - preserve the shrimp for the future."

Libby is a commercial fishermen from Port Clyde and another Maine member of the Northern Shrimp section. The other two delegations represent New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Libby says it seems unfair that Maine can be out-voted on shrimp issues when it's Maine fishermen who catch 90 percent of the landings in New England.

"That's how we feel. New Hampshire and Mass don't feel that way," Libby says.

Shrimp provide a small, but valuable, fishery for fishermen. Libby says many lobstermen here rely on shrimping to get through the cold months when they're not hauling lobster traps.

The reaction of industry representatives was dismay. For many of them, a limit of 625 metric tons is just too low. "Six-twenty-five is effectively no season, it's a nightmare," say seafood dealer Angelo Ciocca, of Nova Seafood in Portland. Ciocca says the committee might just as well have approved the moratorium that scientists had been recommending.

"If the shrimp are as bad as science tells us, and as bad as New Hampshire and Massachusetts seem to think, that probably would have been the smartest thing to do," Ciocca says.

The ASFMC's Technical Committee had also recommended delaying the start of the shrimp season until about mid-February - by that time, scientists estimate at least half of Gulf of Maine northern shrimp will have hatched their eggs.

In any event, the regulators approved a slightly earlier start, with shrimp trawlers able to go out from Jan. 22, 2013, and trappers getting to work on Feb. 5.


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