New England shrimp will be unavailable to seafood consumers for at least another year as the fishery struggles with environmental changes, regulators decided on Wednesday.
An arm of the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission made the decision at a meeting in Portland. New England shrimp fishing historically has been based in Maine and has been shut down since 2013.
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Scientists have said the shrimp are suffering from warming ocean temperatures and poor survival of young, and prospects for recovery in the immediate future are poor. The Atlantic States panel was tasked with determining if the shrimp population has recovered enough during the moratorium to withstand commercial fishing pressure, and decided that is has not.
"Are we ever going back? I don't know," said Mike Armstrong, a member of the shrimp panel. "Mother nature has a remarkable ability, if we leave some spawning stock in the water, to recover."
The shrimp fishery has traditionally taken place in winter months. An advisory board had recommended reopening the fishery to a limited amount of harvest, but a technical committee wanted to keep shrimp fishing closed.
One member of the panel, Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Pat Keliher, proposed allowing fishermen back in the water with a very tight quota, but the motion did not pass. He also said he is "not sure we can ever recover this stock" but added that he is "ready to go forward with a smaller fishery."
The absence of a winter shrimp fishery has been an economic hardship for Maine fishermen and seafood dealers, said Spencer Fuller, a member of the advisory board.
The loss of the Maine fishery has impacted the economics of the shrimp industry, Fuller said. The shrimp also are fished off of eastern Canada, but have been difficult to buy in the U.S. since New England's fishery shut down.
"Something has to change," he said. "It's basically been dismantled. Markets have been lost."
Fishermen in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts brought more than 10 million pounds of the small, sweet, pinkish shrimp to land as recently as 2011. They were a popular winter seafood item in New England and beyond in grocery stores, fish markets and restaurants when they were available.