Maine shrimp fishery looks unlikely to reopen in 2018.

The Maine shrimp fishery appears headed toward another closed season in 2018, based on bleak stock assessments made earlier this year, regional fishery regulators say.

If a panel meeting in Portland on Nov. 29 agrees with the recommendations released this week, 2018 will be the fourth year the small but much-loved winter fishery is closed.

“It was not a good result for shrimp this year,” said Max Appelman, who coordinates the fishery for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate regulatory body that oversees the fisheries along the Atlantic Coast.

Abundance of the species was at a 34-year low in 2017, the commission said. During the annual summer scientific survey, data showed that survival of the shrimp that spawned in 2016 was the second lowest observed in the history of the survey, which began in the mid-80s.

Climate change is the likeliest cause for the crash in the fishery; Northern shrimp, or pandalus borealis, require cold winter water to spawn. Waters in the Gulf of Maine, the southernmost waters the shrimp can survive in, are warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute has reported.

The environment for shrimp is increasingly “inhospitable,” the commission’s report said, attributing the rising temperature to climate change. There is consensus among scientists around the world that the earth’s climate is changing as a result of human activity, including burning fossil fuels to heat homes, emissions from cars and the gases emitted by livestock.

The Northern Shrimp Advisory Panel will meet at the Portland Westin Harborview on Wednesday to review the findings, and that afternoon members of the Northern Shrimp Section will make a final decision.

Appelman said it’s not unheard of for the section board to buck a recommendation by the advisory panel.

“It is almost rare that the section does exactly what the technical committee recommends,” Appelman said. “But it is mostly in the same ballpark.”

In the fall of 2012, Northern shrimp recruitment – the number of the species that survive to reach reproductive age – was down and the technical committee recommended closure. Despite this, the section voted to open the fishery in 2013. It closed early that year because toward the end of the season, the shrimpers were not meeting their quota, Appelman said, and what they were catching included too many of the small male shrimp that are vital to reproduction.

Arnie Gammage, a longtime shrimp trapper out of South Bristol and a member of the advisory panel, wasn’t surprised to learn that the numbers were down. Typically by this time of the year, lobstermen would be seeing the occasional shrimp turn up in their traps, he said, caught in a corner. Not a lot, maybe a half dozen a day. This year, he said, “I haven’t heard of one person who has seen one good shrimp yet.”

His son was one of a small group of Maine shrimpers who participated in a research program last winter, making limited shrimp runs once a week in February and March and then reporting their findings to the Maine Department of Marine Resources, enabling state biologists to track shrimp size and what stage of development they had achieved. Northern shrimp start their lives as males and transition to female, typically in their third season.

While Gammage said his son did find shrimp in the area he was assigned to, near Pemaquid Point, he told his father that by the middle of February, most of the shrimp he caught already had dropped their eggs.

“The eggs that drop that early don’t survive,” Gammage said.

That’s because the algae that the shrimp feed on can’t grow at that time of year. It’s not a matter of warmth, but rather sunlight reaching into the water. The shrimp that were out there this past winter were not in sync with the season. From Gammage’s perspective, whatever shrimp are out there should be left alone, in hopes the species can rebound.

“Why kill off the shrimp?” he said. “We have to give them the best chance.”

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