Shrimp fishing closes today to prevent overharvesting
PORTSMOUTH - Most shrimp fishermen will get only one more day at sea this season. The Northern Shrimp Section of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Council voted on Wednesday to close the fishery as of 11:59 p.m. on Friday.
The fishery, which includes Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, is expected to exceed the total allowable catch set for the season of about 2,200 metric tons, which is less than half of last year's quota.
All three New Hampshire representatives to the Northern Shrimp Section supported closing the fishery as soon as today to protect the resource and to prevent another reduction in quota next year.
But Maine officials, after consulting with their attorney general's office, said they needed at least another day to post a notification of the closure in a newspaper.
Fishermen who use traps to catch shrimp will be able to go out Thursday and Friday, but trawlers, which make up the majority of the 10 to 15 New Hampshire boats that participate in the shrimp fishery, have been permitted to shrimp only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays since the short season opened last month.
As of Thursday, 1,996 metric tons of shrimp had been landed in the three states, with 85-90 percent of it caught in Maine. Trappers are said to account for only about 5 percent of the shrimp caught this season. Their season began on Feb. 1.
'My guess is that we will run to 2,750 tons by the time we're done. So this would be the second year in a row we have harvested 50 percent more than the technical committee recommended and just like last year, I think we are in an area of doing damage to next year's available shrimp, so that's my thinking,' Ritchie White, the New Hampshire governor's appointee to the section, said.
Doug Grout, marine division chief for New Hampshire Fish & Game, agreed that to prevent any further effect on next year's fishery, it is important to close it as soon as possible.
'It's tough, because I know having such a small amount of landings for fishermen is making their livelihood very, very difficult right now, but that is where the resource is at and in the past we were criticized for not shutting down early enough when stocks went down to low levels before,' Grout said.
Dennis Abbott, New Hampshire's proxy legislative appointee to the section, said the section representatives would be derelict in their duties if they did not close the season immediately, and probably should have held the meeting on Monday.
White said he was extremely disappointed in Maine officials for not knowing ahead of time that they would need at least a day to put notification of the closure in a newspaper, and for not agreeing to have the meeting earlier in the week.
'If you can't close, you can't close, but it is certainly going to change my thinking next year in terms of how much leeway is given,' White said.
Fishermen who spoke, most of whom live in Maine, did not take kindly to the comments, or the closure.
One said he had everything he owned tied up in the fishing industry, adding that people with nothing to lose are making the decisions about that industry.
'Tell me this is a bad dream that you want to shut us down. We just got started,' another Maine fisherman said.
But New Hampshire shrimp fishermen Mike and Padi Anderson said they understand and support the closure even though it has been a challenging year.
'At this point, given the science we are working with, I am concerned about jeopardizing next year's allocation if we over-harvest this year's quota like we did last year,' Padi Anderson said. 'I support the position of balancing the sustainability of the resource and the economic viability of the industry by making responsible management decisions with efficient reporting and good science.'
The Andersons have been selling Northern shrimp direct from their boat, F/V Rimrack, in Rye Harbor, and will do so for the last time this season on Friday, as will the Eastmans who shrimp from the Sweet Carolyn in Seabrook.
The Andersons and other fishermen will then move into ground fishing, which brings its own set of regulatory challenges, and will be squid fishing in Cape Cod by May.