Future of shrimp in Maine debated

PORTLAND — The future of the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery was up for debate last week when some 40 industry members, most of them fishermen, gathered at the Casco Bay Ferry terminal April 6 to discuss proposals from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to make significant changes to the way it manages the fishery.

The commission is considering whether to cap the number of boats allowed to fish for Northern shrimp, and if so, how to limit entry into the fishery. Also up for debate are whether and how to set fixed allocations of allowable shrimp landings among boats from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

The meeting was the last of four held by the management plans and the second in Maine. There was also a meeting at the Fishermen’s Forum in early March, which was heavily attended by fishermen from Down East.

According to Terry Stockwell, the Department of Marine Resources’ director of external affairs, “there is probably more support” in the western part of the state for both limited access and individual landing quotas based on past landings history.

That may be a reflection of the facts that when there was a fishery in recent years, regulators set a total annual catch limit, and that shrimp arrive off southern Maine a month or more before they move into eastern waters. That gives western Maine fishermen the chance to land much of the annual quota before Down East fishermen even get their nets in the water.

Speaking at the forum in Rockland, a fisherman from Sorrento said that a history-based limited entry system would “really hurt guys east of Rockland.” Their fishery is complicated by the need to truck landings to processors in the Portland area, and they can’t make a profit at the same boat price as fishermen who can unload their catches their or have shorter distances to ship them.

The allocation of shrimp landings among Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts is another contentious issue.

Although there was no shrimp fishery during the past two winters, in recent years when there was a shrimp fishery, Maine boats consistently landed about 90 percent of the catch. All three states, though, have equal representation on the ASMFC, so volume of landings wouldn’t necessarily be the only factor considered if a state-by-state landings allocation system is adopted.

“There’s a lot of politics at the ASMFC,” Stockwell said at the Fishermen’s Forum.

It isn’t only the commission where politics could play a role. Fishermen from both ends of the state have expressed concern that if each state received a landings allocation, the state legislatures might get involved in distributing the quota among individual fishermen.

Another issue is how to allocate any quota established, when and if the fishery reopens, among two different groups of fishermen.

Traditionally, shrimping has been a trawl fishery in which boats tow large nets to catch shrimp. In recent years, though, a small trap fishery has developed, and fishermen using that gear – which some say brings a higher quality product to market – want to ensure that they aren’t cut out of any limited entry plan that is based on past landings history.

According to Stockwell, there is some support for limiting the total number of trawlers in the fishery and placing a limit on horsepower to control the size of the boats.

Another problem fishermen have raised with a history-based limited entry system is that it would make it difficult for young people to get into the fishery.

“Cut-off dates are arbitrary,” Stonington fisherman John Williams said at the forum. “It’s an aging fishery. Let people age out” so new fishermen can get into it.

Even the Portland high-liner fishermen who favor the use of landings support finding a way to get new entrants into the fishery, Stockwell said Tuesday.

“They’re getting older, and pretty soon it’s going to be somebody else’s shrimp,” he said.

With the meetings finished, ASMFC will take its time considering what new regulatory proposals it will bring forward. Nothing is likely to be published before May at the earliest, Stockwell said. Those proposals will then be subject to extensive public review.

“It will be a slow and deliberate process with plenty of opportunity for public input,” Stockwell said.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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