Shrimp populations in northern New England have declined so quickly that a regulatory agency has banned all shrimp fishing for the 2014 season in order to allow the small crustaceans to replenish themselves. The sharp fall-off in shrimp stock is due to overfishing and worsening environmental conditions, experts say.
News of the indefinite embargo on shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine was announced Wednesday by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a body of eastern states that manages the conservation of about two dozen fish species in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Commission cited overfishing and the warming of the oceans as reasons for the precipitous decline in the area's shrimp stock in recent years.
“The Northern Shrimp Technical Committee has considered the Gulf of Maine northern shrimp stock to have collapsed with very little hope for recovery in the near future,” said committee chairwoman and marine biologist Kelly Whitmore to a shrimp fishing advisory panel in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday, according to The Bangor Daily News. “There are no small shrimp around right now. It doesn’t bode well for the future.”
"It's the lowest biomass in history," said Terry Stockwell of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, according to The Associated Press, which notes also that this is the first time in 35 years that the entire shrimp season has been brought to a halt -- the last time it happened was in 1978, when shrimp harvests plummeted to historic lows. (They rebounded in subsequent years.)
Warmer water temperatures have negatively affected shrimp by killing off the phytoplankton that shrimp like to eat, experts say.
The moratorium was declared to protect the few shrimp left in the area and to give them a chance to regenerate their population, said the Commission's press release, noting that the ban on shrimp fishing could last for more than just one year.
The ban will undoubtedly hurt Maine's already struggling shrimp industry, which in 2013 was worth only a small fraction of what it was worth just two years earlier in 2011, according to The New York Times. The fall-off in the industry's worth is due in part to a low catch cap imposed on shrimp fishermen last year because of fears over low shrimp stock.