Regional fisheries regulators are meeting in Portland in anticipation of a decision Friday on whether the once-robust fishery for Northern shrimp — a delicacy known around here as Maine shrimp — should be reopened after four years of closure. The likely answer is "no."
Spencer Fuller has been a Maine-based shrimp buyer for almost 40 years. He says Maine has the "best cold-water shrimp in the world, no question."
But federal regulators shut the fishery down in 2014 after the observed biomass dropped to unsustainable levels. Fuller, who sits on an advisory panel for Northern Shrimp, says he and many other Mainers in the sector believe that stocks are back at harvestable levels. But he doesn't expect a majority of the higher-level panel — with representatives from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts — that will vote on the 2019 season to agree.
"Under the current structure, if nothing changes, I'm not optimistic,” he says. “I mean if you can't redesign your survey to reflect changes in the environment and distribution of the shrimp, and instead of managing on consensus they keep managing on majority, Maine is always going to be at the wrong end of that stick."
In 1996, Maine fishermen landed more than 8,000 metric tons of shrimp, valued at nearly $13 million, a high-water mark that has not been reached since. Federal scientists say that the biomass of shrimp capable of spawning in the Gulf is at about 600 tons, a depleted level that makes prospects for short or long-term commercial harvests "very poor."