Warming Waters Spell More Bad News For New England Shrimp

Northern shrimp, Pandalus borealis (top), and two species of striped shrimp (P. montagui and Dichelopandalus leptocerus bottom). Photo by Cinamon Moffett, University of Maine.

PORTLAND (AP) — New England shrimp are still in bad shape despite a fishing shutdown that is unlikely to end soon, new data shows.

The region’s shrimp fishing industry, long based mostly in Maine, has been shut down since 2013 because of concerns about the health of the population.

Recent surveys off Maine and New Hampshire say signs are still poor, scientists with the regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission said.

A big part of the problem is that the shrimp thrive in cold water and the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than most of the world’s oceans.

The mean average summer sea bottom temperature was about 42 degrees (5 degrees Celsius) from the mid-1980s to the early ’90s, and it rose to 45 degrees (7 Celsius) this year, said Dustin Colson Leaning, a fishery management plan coordinator for the Atlantic States.

That small difference makes it harder for young shrimp to thrive and join the population, he said.

“The big takeaways here are that we are doing our best to rebuild the fishery to hopefully some point where it’s commercially viable,” he said. “However, these findings for this year indicate the species is still struggling.”

The fishery for the shrimp is shut down until at least 2021 due to a previous action by an Atlantic States regulatory panel. The panel could vote to change that on Dec. 6, but it’s unlikely given the negative trends, Leaning said.

The shrimp were formerly available in New England and beyond in the winter months, when fishermen would harvest them via traps and trawl boats. They were a small piece of the worldwide shrimp industry, but were beloved in the culinary world, inspiring features everywhere from The New York Times to Bon Appétit.

“It is disappointing, yes. At least they could let the boats go again and try it just to get some data,” said Glen Libby, a former Maine shrimp trawler. “But my brain works different than the regulators.”

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