May 28, 2024

180-day-long shrimp season begins today in Gulf of Maine

PORTLAND – New England fishermen will have a long season and an abundant resource to fish from when the northern shrimp season kicks off today.

But what sort of price fishermen get for their product remains to be seen.

Northern shrimp provide a small but valuable fishery to the New England fishing fleet, offering an alternative for fishermen who are having a tough time of it catching haddock, flounder and other bottom-dwelling fish.

Fishermen will be allowed to catch shrimp in nets and traps for 180 days for the 2008-09 season, which runs through May 29. The season is 28 days longer than last year and will be the longest season since 1991.

Pat White, chairman of the panel that regulates the shrimp fishery, said scientific surveys show that the resource should be abundant both this season and next. The fishery is jointly regulated by Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

“This hopefully will give the industry a chance to broaden their markets, which will result in increased prices,” said White, who lives in York. “But it’s a competitive market worldwide.”

Shrimp is a cyclical fishery known for its ups and downs. After several boom shrimp fishing years in the 1990s, a decline in the Gulf of Maine shrimp stocks forced regulators to shorten the season to just 25 days in 2002-03, 38 days in 2003-04 and 70 days in 2004-05.

Fishermen in the 2007-08 season caught about 10.5 million pounds, the largest harvest since 1997, according to the ASMFC. An estimated 211 boats from Maine, 14 from New Hampshire and five from Massachusetts participated in last year’s fishery.

Maine boats account for about 90 percent of the catch, with most landings occurring from January through March.

While the catch has gone up in recent years, the price has remained low. Fishermen got an average of 37 cents a pound in the 2005-06 season and 39 cents a pound the next year, according to the ASMFC. Prices for the 2007-08 season were not available.

Those prices are very different from the late ’80s and the early ’90s, when fishermen sometimes averaged $1 or more a pound.

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