Rules would tighten limits on shrimp catch
PORTLAND, Maine - One of New England’s last open-access commercial fisheries could be closed to new participants as regulators look at new ways to manage the region’s shrimp fishery, a restriction that some fishermen fear would harm their ability to make ends meet in the winter.
New rules have been proposed for the Gulf of Maine that include such options for the coming season as quotas and restrictions on where and when the small, sweet shrimp can be caught. But the proposal also includes a rule that could - possibly as soon as 2013 - bar or restrict fishermen who don’t have a history of fishing for shrimp.
The plan is being drawn up following shrimp seasons that were abruptly cut short because fishermen caught too much shrimp too fast. The new plan aims to give more flexibility in managing the fishery.
Many fishermen say limiting the number of fishing boats is probably the best way to maintain shrimp populations while allowing fishermen to turn a profit. One of them is Maggie Raymond, executive director of Associated Fisheries of Maine, who owns two groundfishing boats that aren’t used for shrimping.
“We’ve brought this fishery back from some very low levels and we’d like to have it sustainable,’’ Raymond said. “We think the only real way to do that is to have control over how many boats are in the fishery.’’
The Maine Lobstermen’s Association, however, is opposed to limits on new fishermen.
Many lobstermen rig their boats to catch shrimp to supplement their income in the winter, said the association’s executive director, Patrice McCarron.
“Shrimp is the one fishery that’s left that still provides fishermen adaptability,’’ McCarron said. “I think to shut that door completely changes the culture, changes how our small coastal communities operate, and how they survive the winter.’’
The Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery typically accounts for about 2 percent of nation’s annual harvest. The Gulf of Mexico’s catch is about 40 times larger.
Regulators manage the fishery by deciding how long the season should be and setting a target catch. But shrimping was cut short in each of the past two seasons when fishermen surpassed the target catch. Preliminary figures show last year’s harvest was about 13 million pounds, exceeding the target by 48 percent.
The proposed changes would open the door to several new management alternatives. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates the fishery, is taking public comment on the ideas until Sept. 30.
The goal is to have a new set of regulations in place for the next shrimp season, which begins in December, said Michael Waine, the commission’s fishery management plan coordinator for shrimp. A scientific panel will set the season in early November.
One option under consideration would limit how much shrimp could be caught on each trip. Another would limit the number of traps. Other options would designate specific days when fishermen could not go after shrimp, or set quotas either by zone, by season or by month.
The draft also includes the proposal to limit the number of shrimp fishermen based on a “control date,’’ cutting off those not in the fishery as of June 7.
The limited-entry restriction, if approved, wouldn’t go into effect before the 2013 season.