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New England shrimp season faces moratorium

In its 2012 assessment report, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s shrimp technical committee is recommending that a fishing moratorium be enacted for the coming season. If a season is allowed to go forward, the committee says it shouldn’t start until at least half of the shrimp have hatched their eggs, which typically happens around mid-February.

“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 report reads. “This suggests an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp and indicates the need for protecting spawning biomass.”

The commission’s shrimp-regulating panel, which includes representatives from Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is scheduled to meet Monday in Portland and decide what the season should look like or whether to even have one. The panel sets the season and the target harvest based on scientific surveys of the highly variable shrimp population.

There’s likely to be a strong turnout of shrimp fishermen, processors and others who would be hurt if the season is shut down or cut back.

Shrimp provide a small but valuable fishery for New England fishermen, especially those who go after cod, haddock and other so-called groundfish.

Last winter, 276 Maine boats harvested the small, sweet shrimp, with another 15 from Massachusetts and 18 from New Hampshire.

Regulators have recommended moratoriums before, and fishermen have weathered short seasons, said Glen Libby, a shrimp fisherman and president of Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a seafood processor in Port Clyde. The last time there was an outright moratorium was in 1978.

Libby’s hopeful the panel that sets the season Monday will allow some sort of fishing this winter.

“I think science has determined that there’s a safe amount that can be taken out,” Libby said. “You have to balance science and economics. If science says you can have that many, you should have that many. If the science says you can’t have any, then so be it, but (the assessment report) didn’t say that.”

Shrimp is an up-and-down fishery, with harvests fluctuating wildly through the years. Fishermen last winter caught about 5.3 million pounds, down from 14 million pounds in 2011.

Each of the last two seasons was shut down early after fishermen reached their catch limits early in the season.

Fishermen last year were allowed to drag their nets only 21 days before the season ended.

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