Good Luck Finding Maine Shrimp This Winter
The effects of climate change and a fishing moratorium mean the crustaceans won't even make it to market.
Shrimp from Maine is certainly less well-known than its crustacean cousin, Maine lobster. One of the primary reasons is that over 80 percent of American lobsters caught in the U.S. are from the state; meanwhile, even in a good year, Maine accounted for just a sliver of U.S. shrimp production, which as a whole only accounts for a sliver of the shrimp consumed in America, most of which comes from Asia. But another reason you may not hear much about shrimp from New England is that, this year, literally none will make it to market at all.
According to the Associated Press, the situation for Northern shrimp, also known as Pandalus borealis, is so dire that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is even shutting down a research program that had previously allowed a limited amount of shrimp from the Gulf of Maine to make it to market.
Though the shutdown should assure that what little supplies of Northern shrimp were being sold will no longer be available, it’s not like the supply has suddenly collapsed. After years of restrictions, the commission shut down all but the “research set aside” program since the 2014 season. Now, even that program for New England shrimp fishing reportedly won’t be allowed until 2021 when the moratorium is set to end. Even then, extensions of the closure are possible as stocks will be reevaluated year by year.
As recently as 2011, ASMFC data shows that landings were near 15 million pounds, the highest they’ve been since 1997. And Northern shrimp stocks have collapsed and rebuilt before: In 1978, the fishery was closed due to a stock collapse, but grew steadily throughout the ‘80s. However, this time around, the ASMFC appears to worry that things are different due to climate change. No previous closure has ever lasted anywhere near this long, and the commission has noted that “long-term trends in environmental conditions have not been favorable for” Northern shrimp. As Portland, Maine’s Press Herald reported last year, waters in the Gulf of Maine are warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, according to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. The gulf already has the warmest waters these cold water-thriving shrimp can survive in; the even warmer winter waters are making it difficult for the species to spawn.
“While 2014 and 2015 temperatures were cooler, 2016 and 2017 temperatures were again high, and temperature is predicted to continue rising as a result of climate change,” the ASMFC writes on its website. “This suggests an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp and the need for strong conservation efforts to help restore and maintain the stock. The Northern Shrimp Technical Committee considers the stock to be in poor condition with limited prospects for the near future.”