New England Fisherman Dealt Blow as Warming Water Halts Cold-Water Shrimp Season

Fishermen in Maine face further hardship for the cold-water shrimp season as the fishery remains shut down because of concerns with warming waters affecting the health of the shrimp population.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission board voted on Friday to keep the shrimp fishery shut down for another three years. It initially closed in 2013.

Water in the Gulf of Maine has been heating faster than most oceans across the world. The decision to keep the fishery closed came after reports of the warmer water affecting the shrimp population, which prefers cooler waters, and it affected their predators' behavior.

An increase in water temperature sped up the rate at which a particular species of squid preys on the shrimp, decreasing their population, according to scientists.

A technical committee released a report this month saying the fishery should be kept closed because of the "poor condition of the resource, the extremely low likelihood of being able to fish sustainably, and the value of maximizing spawning potential to rebuild the stock if environmental conditions improve."

Prior to the closure, Maine fishermen relied on cold-water shrimp as a way to make money in the winter months. Before the ban went into effect fishermen caught more than 10 million pounds of shrimp in 2011. By 2012 they caught half of that, and the following year, only about 600,000 pounds of shrimp were caught.

Northern Shrimp, Maine
New England's shrimp fishery will remain shut down because of concerns about the health of the shrimp population amid warming ocean temperatures. The fishery has been shut down since 2013. Above, James Rich maneuvers a bulging net full of northern shrimp caught in the Gulf of Maine on January 6, 2012. Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

The board last voted to extend the existing moratorium on commercial fishing of the shrimp in 2018. The board could have decided to reopen the fishing industry on Friday, but chose not to in the face of discouraging news from scientists.

Recent surveys of the shrimp show far less of them than historical averages, and there have been seven consecutive years of low abundance, said Maggie Hunter, a scientist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Warming waters remain a problem, Hunter said.

"Temperature data continues to show unfavorable conditions for northern shrimp," Hunter said. "The status of the stock continues to be poor."

The domestic cold-water shrimping industry was based almost entirely in Maine, though some shrimp came to the docks in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Canadian fishermen harvest the same species, and they are sometimes still available to consumers in the U.S. They're often called "northern shrimp" or "Maine shrimp" and are small, pink shrimp valued in the culinary world for their sweet meat. The shrimp are a small piece of the worldwide shrimp fishing and farming industry that produces the popular protein around the globe.

The regulatory board also voted to explore the possibility of allowing personal-use fishing for the shrimp.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Northern Shrimp, Maine
New England's shrimp fishery will remain shut down because of concerns about the health of the shrimp population amid warming ocean temperatures. Above, northern shrimp lay on snow aboard a trawler in the Gulf of Maine on January 6, 2012. Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo