An increasingly warmer ocean may mean continued reductions in the amount of shrimp Maine fishermen are allowed to catch and leaves regulators and those in the fishery wondering what the future holds.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section Dec. 4 approved a total allowable catch (TAC) for the shrimp fishery of 625 metric tons (mt), representing a 72 percent reduction from last year’s quota.
Maine Shrimp Trappers Association (MSTA) Executive Director Stephenie Pinkham said fishermen knew what was going to take place.
She said the ASMFC Technical Committee wanted to cut the season completely and that the decision to sharply limit shrimp harvesting was disappointing.
University of Maine scientist Yong Chen is working with the Dept. of Marine Resources on a new science model that Pinkham hopes will provide a more favorable assessment of the resource.
The TAC is subdivided into a research set-aside of 5.44 mt, a trawl fishery TAC of 539.02 mt, and a trap fishery TAC of 80.54 mt.
Each fishery will close when 85 percent of its TAC is projected to be reached and a four-day advance notice will be issued prior to the closure of each fishery.
Pinkham said trappers catch shrimp after they have laid their eggs and that, in spite of restrictions imposed under the new season, the much higher allowance for trawlers will not help preserve the fishery.
“We [trappers] don’t catch juvenile shrimp,” she said. “Until the [trawl] fishery starts to do that, nothing’s going to change.”
MSTA President Tim Simmons said cleaner and more efficient engines that would reduce the environmental impact of all fishing boats are fairly expensive.
“As far as what the technical committee laid out, what we should be doing and should not be doing, trappers catch little or no males (the juvenile phase of the hermaphroditic northern shrimp),” he said.
Simmons said harvesting after the adults release their eggs means trapping shrimp has a lower carbon footprint and does far less damage to the ocean floor.
“Maybe the science is wrong,” Simmons said. He said the locations and protocols used to survey the shrimp population might be yielding insufficient or inaccurate data. He said it would help if fishermen were aboard vessels conducting the next survey, to ensure scientists gather samples as efficiently as harvesters haul their catch.
Bristol trawl fisherman Brian McLain said climate change is impacting every fishery. While he said he was not sure regulators had all the right information, McLain believes the scientists.
“They’ve been doing this a long time,” McLain said. “We’ve never seen water as warm as we had it this year.” He has been fishing since 1972 and has carried equipment to monitor ocean temperatures for close to 20 years. He said melting polar ice and other factors are creating a different world than the one he grew up in.
“At my dock where I keep my lobster traps the tide is going over it more now in a year’s time than it did in 10 years,” he said.
According to a notice posted at dmr.gov, regulators considered several factors in setting specifications for the 2013 fishery, including overfishing of the northern shrimp stock over the last three years, a downward trend in abundance seen in nine years of surveys and a reduction in the number of shrimp entering the fishery in the year classes for 2010 and 2011, referred to as recruitment.
“I’m not sure if they’re not finding them or if the water is too warm or there’s no feed when they hatch,” he said of the missing year classes. “There’s a lot to it.”
“It could be anything but I think global warming is a reasonable explanation,” he said. “Some people do not believe in that.”
“We’re at a very tough spot in the fishery,” Waine said. “We see what the environmental conditions are. It’s absolutely challenging.” He said managers are trying to find a balance between the needs of fishermen and the changing conditions for the resource.
“This stock has been overfished for the last three years,” he said. Waine said he did not know how to influence the environment, other than in people’s individual lives.
“We can do all we can to control emissions,” Waine said
In the past, McLain said, the shrimp “always took care of themselves. If you couldn’t catch enough you didn’t go shrimping. With all the technology these days, and better fishing gear, we can’t do it the way we did.”
Even so, he said dragging for shrimp is not easy. The bottom offers many places for the shrimp to hide.
The Dec. 4 announcement said shrimp biomass has steadily declined since 2007 and is currently at its lowest level.
“Northern shrimp recruitment is related to both spawning biomass and ocean temperatures, with higher spawning biomass and colder temperatures producing stronger recruitment,” the announcement said. “Ocean temperatures in the western Gulf of Maine shrimp habitat have been increasing in recent years and have reached or approached unprecedented highs in the past three years.”
The notice said there is “a critical need for protecting spawning biomass” in the face of “an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp.”
The northern shrimp fishery is jointly regulated by Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Northern Shrimp Section. Waine said a six-member panel of industry advisers includes two trappers.
“This meeting was not an easy one to have,” he said. “These managers struggle in the position that they’re in.”
Waine said scientists do not fully understand the impacts of this situation on other species and that it is not certain whether species that rely on shrimp will find other prey.
“We don’t have all that data,” he said. “It’s very hard information to obtain.” Waine said groundfish such as silver hake are among those that feed on shrimp.
“If you took all the technology away, you’d eliminate 90 percent of the fishermen.” McLain said. “I don’t think these young guys could learn to go without all the GPS’s and depth finders.”
“It’s a guessing game,” he said. “I think it’s even a guessing game for the scientists. I still think climate change is the biggest part of what were dealing with.”
He said he makes efforts to reduce his impact on the environment, such as turning his home thermostat down.
“I can remember my father throwing his oil filter overboard when he changed his oil in the boat,” McLain said. “I don’t even throw a gum wrapper in the water any more.” Those efforts may not save the shrimp fishery and the way of life it represents, he said.
“I think we’re too late,” he said. “Maybe its Mother Nature. Maybe it would have happened anyway. We don’t know that.”
McLain said a graph shown at the ASMFC meeting demonstrated that there was a similar spike in water temperature in 1954.
“In three years it went right back where it should be,” he said. “I don’t think it will happen this time.”
The trawl fishery will begin on Weds., Jan. 23, 2013, with landings restricted to Monday and Wednesday and no trip limit.
The trap fishery will begin Tues., Feb. 5, 2013 with landings allowed all days except Sunday and an 800-pound trip limit.
The cooperative management program has been in place since 1972 and is currently managed under Amendment 2 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Northern Shrimp.
For more information, contact Michael Waine at 703-842-0740 or email@example.com.
For information about the Maine shrimp fishing season and rules, contact Marine Patrol Sgt. Rene Cloutier at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 592-2364.