SEABROOK — Local fishermen who for years have been hampered by federal regulators continued to receive bad news yesterday when the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission reduced the valuable winter shrimping season landing by almost 70 percent.
According to Red Perkins, manager of the Yankee Fisherman’s Cooperative in Seabrook, the commission is allowing fishermen to harvest only 625 metric tons of shrimp in the coming season and restricting the days for fishing to Mondays and Wednesdays only until the quota is reached.
The season will begin Jan. 23 for net fishermen and Feb. 1 for trap fishermen. The late start, Perkins said, is to allow shrimp to hatch their eggs, enhancing reproduction levels.
Last year, fishermen were allowed to harvest 2,000 tons, and were limited to fishing just three days a week. The year before, the limit was 6,000 tons and fishing was restricted to five days a week.
The decision to drastically reduce shrimping in New England was made yesterday in Portland, Maine, during a meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which Perkins attended.
The commission’s actions stem from a report filed by its technical committee, which had recommended the shrimp-fishing season be called off entirely due to low shrimp populations in the Gulf of Maine.
“Ocean temperatures in the western Gulf of Maine shrimp habitat have been increasing in recent years and have reached or approached unprecedented highs in the past three years,” the committee’s 2012 assessment report reads. “This suggests an increasingly inhospitable environment for northern shrimp and indicates the need for protecting spawning biomass.”
Perkins said the question now for the cooperative is how many local fishermen will rig boats for only two days of fishing a week in a season that could last only a week or two, Perkins said.
This is the third consecutive year regulators cut into the shrimp season. Last season, fishermen were allowed to drag their nets only 21 days in January and February before the shortened season ended.
Fishermen last winter caught about 5.3 million pounds of the region’s small, sweet shrimp, down from 14 million pounds in 2011.
The majority of the catch was by Maine boats, which totaled 276. There were 18 boats shrimping from New Hampshire, including 10 from Yankee Cooperative which landed about 120,000 pounds of the harvest. Another 15 were from Massachusetts.
With quotas of groundfish slashed in half in recent years, expensive and hard-to-get fishing permits, and rigorous and some say excessive federal regulations, the curtailment of shrimp fishing in the Gulf of Maine is another financial hardship for the commercial fishing fleet to absorb. Shrimping during the winter is a way for many independent New Hampshire fishermen manning small boats to survive financially, following the reduction of allowed landings for groundfish like cod and haddock and low prices.
Perkins said the number of fishermen going out shrimping has increased in recent years as income from groundfishing has deteriorated due to federal regulations.
“It’s the end of the year in fishing and many of the fishermen have filled their quotas of groundfish,” Perkins said. “Shrimping is a way to earn income and not have to buy up remaining groundfish quota (unfilled by other fishermen).”
Shrimp-fishing also prevents New Hampshire fishermen from having to travel farther out to sea to the groundfish habitat during winter’s harsh weather and rough seas, Perkins said.
This latest move by the commission could have devastating results for New Hampshire’s 400-year-old fishing industry, which has dwindled drastically over recent years.
At the Yankee Fishermen’s Cooperative — the only one left in the Granite State, the number of working fishing boats has dropped to about 16 from a high of more than 30 years ago, Perkins said.
Perkins said this development will mean layoffs at the cooperative this winter, even though its new retail store, begun this summer, met expectations.
Perkins advised those who purchase shrimp and seafood from the cooperative at its store, wholesale or through community-supported fishing shares to keep an eye on its website over the coming months for the latest information on what is available.
Yankee Fisherman’s retail store at its Seabrook Harbor location will remain open this winter Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Customers can buy fish caught by local fishermen right as it comes off the boats.
For more information, visit www.yankeefish.com or call 603-474-9850.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.