Summer survey shows shrimp not rebuilding

File photo/Locally caught northern shrimp, Pandalus borealis, won't appear on holiday tables this year. Despite fishing closures, the stock is not improving, likely due to the warming of the Gulf of Maine.

A year ago, fishery regulators that manage northern shrimp in the Gulf of Maine closed the fishery for the 2019 season because the imperiled stock remained a prisoner to its own meager abundance and unrelenting inability to improve biomass and recruitment.

The closure — the sixth since the Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission's initial shuttering following the 2013 season — was not a surprise. What was surprising was that the commission opted to forgo a single-season closure and instead closed the northern shrimp, or Pandalus borealis, fishery for three seasons ending in 2021.

Things were that bad. Apparently, they haven't gotten any better in the past year.

The commission's northern shrimp section is set to convene Dec. 6 via webinar to discuss the 2019 data update to its benchmark stock assessment for northern shrimp.

Based on preliminary findings, it is not expected to be a cheery meeting.

On Tuesday, the ASFMC said preliminary findings from the 2019 northern shrimp stock summer survey —and the Maine-New Hampshire survey — show no improvement in the health of the stock and provide no compelling reason for its northern shrimp section to recommend changes to the current management plan of closures.

"The data doesn't give a good indication that the stock is rebuilding in 2019," said Dustin Colson Leaning, the ASMFC's fishery management plan coordinator. The three-season moratorium on fishing, he said, is expected to remain in effect.

That is just one more piece of bad news for a fishery that has received little but bad news since 2013.

Managers had hoped that the single season closures to commercial fishing might give the stock a breather and allow it to rebuild through improvements to spawning biomass and recruitment (the number of new fish added each year to the fishery through growth or migration).

Now the unceasing signs of the fishery's desultory state are leading regulators to an almost-inescapable conclusion that the northern shrimp stock is being battered by environmental forces.

"This is a stock that is controlled by environmental drivers," said Tina Berger, ASFMC spokeswoman.

Changes in its habitat are not helping.

The Gulf of Maine, according to marine scientists, is among the fastest — if not the fastest — warming bodies of water on the planet. And even incremental changes in temperature and habitat have an enormous impact on not just northern shrimp, but a whole host of marine species ranging from lobsters to cod.

Colson Leaning provided data that show the summer bottom temperature in the Gulf of Maine in 1984 was 5.4 degrees Celsius, or 41.72 degrees Fahrenheit. During the string of closures from 2013 to 2019, the mean summer bottom temperature was 6.7 degrees Celsius, or 44.06 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 2019 alone, Colson Leaning said, the mean summer bottom temperature was 7.1 degrees Celsius, or 44.78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

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