ELLSWORTH — State officials have made some adjustments to fishing rules for this winter’s Gulf of Maine shrimp season, extending fishing hours for trawlers but reducing the daily limit for trappers.
Maine Department of Marine Resources announced the changes on Friday.
Fishing for trawlers had been limited to between sunrise and 3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays, while the expected daily limit for trappers had been set at 800 pounds. With the changes approved on Friday, trawlers will be able to fish around the clock on Mondays and Wednesdays and trappers will be limited to catching 500 pounds a day.
The target limit this year for northern shrimp is 625 metric tons, less than a quarter of what it was for the 2012 season. Six hundred and twenty-five metric tons is equal to nearly 1.4 million pounds.
Trawlers are allowed to land 87 percent of the 625 metric-ton total and trappers allowed 13 percent. Each fishery will close when 85 percent of its total allowable catch is projected to be reached, DMR officials have said.
According to information posted on the DMR website, preliminary estimates indicate that nearly 51,000 pounds of Gulf of Maine shrimp were caught on Jan. 23, the first day of the shrimp trawling season. Fifty-two licensed shrimp boats were active on the first day, with 45 of them based out of Maine. Of the seven other boats licensed in the fishery, six are based in New Hampshire and one in Massachusetts.
The average price shrimp fishermen have been getting paid for their catch is $1.45 per pound, according to DMR.
DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher made the changes after meeting Friday with industry representatives who urged him not to reduce the number of fishing days per week, according to DMR officials. Industry representatives said reducing the number of days per week could put pressure on them to go out in bad weather, DMR officials indicated in a prepared statement.
The days that trawlers can fish, Mondays and Wednesdays, stays the same as it was before. Trappers, whose season is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Feb. 5, will be able to fish around the clock Monday through Saturday.
Declining catches in the Gulf of Maine shrimp fishery — which only a few years ago was considered one of the few brights spots in the Northeast commercial fishing industry — have been attributed to overfishing, warmer ocean temperatures and falling population growth rates, officials have said.
Catch limits have been decreased in each of the previous three seasons, from 10.8 million pounds in 2010, to 8.8 million pounds in 2011, and then to 4.9 million pounds last year. In each of those years, the fishery was shut down weeks earlier than the traditional ending time in mid-April.