Tough winter for Maine shrimp

Neil LaRochelle's business is all about supply and demand. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Neil LaRochelle cleans Maine shrimp at Always Fresh LaRochelle's Seafood in Auburn. "It helps me like crazy when the price of shrimp is low," said the shop owner. The problem is the price of shrimp is high. 

"The demand is there," he said. The supply, however, is not.

The owner of Always Fresh LaRochelle's Seafood in Auburn banks on Maine shrimp to keep his customers happy during January and February.

"I rely on shrimp this time of year. People called and called and called, asking, 'When you gonna have shrimp?'" LaRochelle said. 

The first draggers of the shrimp season went out Jan. 23. The next day, LaRochelle sold 450 pounds by lunchtime. 

Maine fisherman caught 5.3 million pounds of shrimp in 2012. This year they are allowed 1.38 million pounds. 

They are allowed to fish two days a week, down from three a year ago. 

"It's gonna be a rough year," said LaRochelle, who ran five pounds of shrimp specials for $25 just three years ago.

Now that same five pounds of picked shrimp would cost $50, if he had the shrimp to sell. 

LaRochelle cleaned 100 pounds Friday and all of it already was spoken for. Walk-in customers looking for pealed shrimp were out of luck. 

"I put up a fresh Maine shrimp sign for two hours on the first day. Now, I don't bother," he said. "I have to take care of the people that call in orders first. After that, there is nothing left."

Each winter, Maine shrimp come into the coastal muddy waters, drop their eggs and go feed. Draggers get the first crack at them in January and then the trappers get a shot in February after the eggs are laid and the shrimp are hungry. 

The shrimp season was curtailed by nearly 75 percent this year, because scientists said the northern shrimp stock has been overfished and water temperatures are the highest on record, an unfavorable condition for shrimp.

"I thought the season would be over in two to three weeks," said LaRochelle, who beleives the season may now last through February. "The boats are not catching the shrimp that I thought they would." 

He admits, "It's a cycle."  He tells his customers the shrimp will be plentiful in two to three years from now.

"We are not catching many 1-year-old shrimp. They have already gone back out to deeper waters and will be back in close to shore in a couple years when they are that much bigger. The shrimp we are getting now are good size and that's a good thing."

The 1-year-olds are small and much harder to pick, he said. 

LaRochelle expects the market price to be higher this week than last. Fresh unpicked Maine shrimp sold for $3.50 per pound and cleaned shrimp sold for $9.99 per pound Friday. Boats went out in high winds Monday.

"With only two days per week to fish, the boats gotta go whether it's blowing or not," LaRochelle said.

He will know Tuesday morning what he has to offer his customers. "It helps me like crazy when the price of shrimp is low." He is not holding his breath.

"It's been a tough January," LaRochelle said. 

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Ann Power's picture

I know

I prefer southern shrimp

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