Regulators close 2014 Gulf of Maine shrimping season

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A dwindling supply of Maine shrimp has some commercial shrimpers wondering whether it’s worth their time any longer.

“I can honestly say it was the worst catch that I’ve ever seen in my career,” Randy Cushman, 51, who has captained a boat for more than 30 years, told The New York Times. “I was calling people and saying, ‘Let’s shut this fishery down, this is stupid.’”

Regulators recently closed the 2014 Gulf of Maine shrimping season — which, in a normal year, might have run from December through spring — to let the supply recover.

The step is unusual for Maine regulators, and it gives Cushman hope for the shrimp’s ability to make a comeback. Others say closing the season will deliver too large of a blow to the small and specialized market and will further erode New England’s already imperiled fishing economy.

But several fishermen and processors who rely on the shrimp are wondering how to weather this season, and maybe longer, without it.

The shrimp in question are called Northern shrimp or, more locally, Maine shrimp, and are smaller and sweeter than warm-water or farmed shrimp.

The fishery is among the last in Maine to be open-access, which means licenses are not limited, as they are elsewhere. As a result, some fishermen say, the supply is vulnerable to overfishing when prices are high. It had a peak in the late 1960s and the ’70s before the supply collapsed and regulators imposed the last complete closing, in 1978.

In 2011, regulators estimate, about 350 boats — mostly in Maine, with some in Massachusetts and New Hampshire ��� caught $10.6 million worth of shrimp; last season, about 200 boats caught an estimated $1.2 million worth.

In 2013, researchers towing nets to assess the size of the stock counted an average of 27 shrimp per tow, compared with a historical average of 1,400 a tow.

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