The shrimp fishery historically has gone through boom-and-bust cycles, with the catch fluctuating sharply depending on the status of the shrimp population.
But this year, the going’s so bad that fishermen have had trouble finding enough shrimp to even approach the catch limit. The season officially ends April 12, but many have already hung up their nets for the season.
In the season’s first seven weeks through March 8, fishermen had caught about 597,000 pounds — less than half the allowable catch.
Dave Osier, a fisherman and shrimp dealer in South Bristol, Maine, said his boats have been catching about 100 pounds an hour this season, a fraction of the 500 pounds per hour they catch in a good year. As of late, the catch rate has been about 50 pounds an hour, he said.
“It’s just dribbling in,” he said. “But the price is a $1 more a pound this year. That’s helped a little.”
With so little shrimp, retail prices have risen.
At Harbor Fish Market in Portland, hand-peeled shrimp meat has been selling for $10.99 to $11.99 a pound, up from $7.99 to $8.99 last year, said co-owner Mike Alfiero. But customers understand that shrimp is a volatile fishery with up-and-down catches and prices, he said.
“There’s been very little resistance on the consumer side,” he said.
Libby, in Port Clyde, said the bad season has rippled into the community, providing less work and money for shrimp-peeling plants, people who sell shrimp from the back of their pickup trucks, wharf workers, truck drivers and fuel dealers.
A lot of fishermen, he said, are convinced there won’t even be a shrimp season next year — paralleling the concerns of New England groundfishermen, who see new NOAA catch limits on Gulf of Maine cod, especially, threatening their 2013 season, which begins May 1.
“They’ll either be unemployed, find another job or fish for something else,” Libby said.