...has been cancelled, again.
There will, however, be three survey trips out in the Gulf Of Maine in the coming weeks to sample the biomass, as there were last year and the year before. After the shrimp caught are measured, weighed, etc, they are put up for sale at Portland Fish Auction (I managed to get 3lbs last year and still have 1lb in the freezer).
But this revealing story by a long-time, mid-coast Maine fisherman casts serious doubt on the process by which Dept. of Maine Marine Resources scientists conduct these surveys. I found it fascinating and, as a former commercial fisherman, insightful. Anyone still around eG that remembers my near-obsessive coverage of this SUSTAINABLE fishery will find it a great read - those that are new to Gulf Of Maine Shrimp or New England fisheries in general will too...
From the current issue of http://www.fishermensvoice.com/
Back in the late 70s, the shrimp season had been canceled in 1978 and was now opening up again. My brother and I were just starting our fishing careers and were blessed with the opportunity to learn from a long-time captain on how to do things right.
His rule was, “there is a right way, a wrong way, and my way.” “My way” being the only way that things were going to be done on that boat. We had an old shrimp net that had been used before that was a few years old but it was deemed too old or worn out by our captain so we proceeded to build a new net from scratch. Nets are hung on two lines. At the time we used rope. The top is hung on one premeasured rope and the bottom is hung the same way. There are hundreds of knots or “hangings” used to hang the net twine so it is even on the rope. The goal is to have the twine come out perfectly even over the length of the rope so it will be right and you will catch the shrimp you are supposed to catch when the net is fished.
When the top of the net was almost finished it was discovered that the twine was not even, it was off by one mesh or 1". The fix for this from our captain was to cut the twine back off of the rope and start over to make sure it was right, several hundred knots but perfection was the goal, nothing else was acceptable. The second attempt yielded perfection and we then finished up the gear and started to fish it knowing that this potential variable had been eliminated.
This level of detail may have been a bit extreme and 1" may not have really mattered that much but since we did not have to worry about that, confidence was high that the gear would perform as expected and we would get an accurate representation of what there was for shrimp in any given spot that we tried to fish.
There are many more components to shrimp gear and any captain who is serious, or knows what they are doing, will make sure everything is fine-tuned as much as possible so the gear as a whole will perform at an optimum level. It costs money to leave the dock and you want to make sure you optimize the catch when you go out fishing; this is common sense and good business practice.
The shrimp season each year is based on government surveys that use similar gear that fishermen use. A government research vessel is used and they go out and make test tows to determine how many shrimp they think are in the water and set the season accordingly to avoid overfishing.
As many of you know, the shrimp season has been canceled again for 2016 due to what has been determined to be a very low shrimp biomass. There were very few shrimp caught by the survey vessel. The catch by the survey vessel is the foundation of these decisions.
Interestingly, there was a memo sent around this year that showed out of 84 stations (locations) that are checked each year to determine the status of the shrimp stock only 40 were completed due to faulty equipment and mechanical breakdowns. Out of the 40 successful attempts that were made to sample shrimp approximately 25% of those were determined to be unusable due to failure of the net to perform to specifications. It was out of whack and dug into the mud. Anyone who has fished will know what I am talking about. According to reports the shrimp gear used is now 32 years old. There was also some discussion about how this performance failure has been going on for the last three years. What this basically means is we have 36% of the data needed to make an informed decision about the true status of the shrimp stock in the Gulf of Maine for a potential 2016 fishery.
No fisherman who wanted to stay in business would use gear with a 36% performance rate but the fate of the fishery biomass and the livelihoods of the people who depend on this fishery in the dead of winter are being impacted by this performance failure by the government survey. Presumably there are computer programs that can tease data out of this that are “good enough” to determine what is actually happening with the shrimp—anyone familiar with the terminology of garbage in garbage out?
It would be unfair to deduce from this that if we only had an accurate survey we would have a shrimp season. The stock may be in worse shape than we know, or it could be better, but how can we know for sure with a lackluster performance like this by those who are in control of determining the health of this important resource? One thing is certain, we deserve much better, people’s livelihoods on and off shore are at stake and anything less than perfectly calibrated (or as close to it as possible) gear is unacceptable.
Statements were made to the effect of “we can’t change the gear because we need to be consistent or the entire time series of research will be thrown off “and “we still caught shrimp even with the gear like this.” When did “good enough “become a research standard and “good enough” become the standard for “consistency?” Research that is not done with properly calibrated gear or equipment is a shot in the dark and I am not just talking about shrimp. Any laboratory work has to have a high level of precision or the results will be ambiguous and likely unusable or below an acceptable standard, I would hope.
We need to hire people who know what they are doing, like actual shrimp fishermen and their vessels and gear, to bring their expertise and attention to detail with gear and equipment to do the survey work, no more garbage in garbage out. The gear needs to be calibrated to standard each and every year to eliminate as much as humanly possible that variable from the equation. We need to really know what is out there so this fishery can be managed properly. The results that are plugged into the computer models will then have a much higher degree of accuracy. We need to start over and get it right.
One fisherman who is on the shrimp advisory panel made the statement that “If I had gear that was 32 years old, I wouldn’t expect to catch much either.” This is common sense for those of us who are fortunate to posses this trait. It is time to inject some reasonable thinking and accuracy (common sense) into the management of this resource. The fishermen, the shore side workers, the people who love Maine shrimp, and taxpayers who fund this work deserve a whole lot better.
Port Clyde Fresh Catch