Seafood lovers might see the return of Maine shrimp to fish market counters and restaurants next year if interstate regulators decide the critter's population is strong enough.
The Maine shrimp fishery has been shut down since 2013, and a moratorium has been extended every year since. The regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has said the shrimp are "considered at record low levels," suffering from poor reproduction and warming oceans.
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An arm of the commission is set to vote on Nov. 29 on whether the shrimp have recovered enough to withstand the return of commercial fishing. They were a popular winter seafood item in New England and beyond before the shutdown.
The closure of the fishery has also been an economic hit to some Maine fishermen, who relied on the shrimp for a source of income in the winter. But it's difficult to say if the commission is leaning toward reopening the fishery, said Max Appelman, a fishery management plan coordinator for the Atlantic States.
"The vibe is that industry, communities in the Gulf of Maine are really hoping for a fishery to open up this year," Appelman said. "But it's just as much up in the air as it was the last few years."
The shrimp are mostly associated with Maine, but were they also brought to shore in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The shrimp have been mostly unavailable to U.S. consumers since the shutdown, though they are also harvested by Canadian fishermen.
If the fishery does reopen next year, it will be subject to new restrictions designed to keep it from bottoming out again.
Regulators have approved changes in the way Maine shrimp are harvested including a requirement that trawlers use new gear to minimize the catch of small shrimp; penalties for states that exceed quotas; maximum fishing season lengths; and a new state-by-state allocation program.
The commission granted final approval to the new rules on Oct. 19.