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March 16, 2013

Gulf of Maine shrimp season a bust

With their quota cut by 74 percent and warnings that the Gulf of Maine shrimp population was in bad shape due to warm ocean temperatures, New England fishermen expected this to be a rough shrimp season.

But it’s turned out to be an even bigger bust than anybody anticipated. The shrimp catch has been meager, resulting in a short supply for processors and higher prices for consumers. The season is on course for the smallest harvest in more than 30 years, and possibly since 1978 when the fishery was shut down altogether.

When regulators set the quota for this season, fishermen thought the 1.4 million-pound catch limit would be fished up quickly. Instead, the catch has been so paltry that regulators are now allowing boats to fish seven days a week instead of two they were initially allotted. They’ve also removed the 800-pound trip limit for shrimp trappers.

Gary Libby, a fisherman in Port Clyde, Maine, said he caught 800 pounds of the small, sweet shrimp on his best day this winter. Last year, he averaged 2,000 pounds a day.

“We were expecting it to be bad going in, but we weren’t expecting it to be as bad as it was,” he said.

Shrimp provide a small but important fishery for New England fishermen each winter, including some out of Gloucester and Cape Ann. The shrimp fleet last year included 225 boats from Maine, and 31 combined from Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The new season began Jan. 23 for net fishermen, who were allotted about 1.2 million pounds of the harvest. Fishermen who catch shrimp in traps began their season Feb. 1, with a quota of under 200,000 pounds.

But the catch has come up far short — just a year after the 2012 season had to be shut down on the premise that fishermen had already exceeded their allowable catch of 4.9 million pounds.

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