Regulators voted Friday to close the Gulf of Maine winter shrimp season for another three years, raising fears that the fishery decimated by rising water temperatures may never bounce back.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has been taking a year-to-year approach to determining whether to allow a winter season, but the panel decided to shut it down for 2019, 2020 and 2021 after receiving a dismal report on the depleted fishery.
The fishery has been shut down since 2013 in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
"The stock has shown very little signs of recovery. It's considered a depleted resource," said Tina Berger, spokeswoman for the agency.
Fishermen, the bulk of them from Maine, used to catch millions of pounds of the shrimp every winter.
But the warming ocean and predation have decimated the shrimp fishery. The shrimp are especially sensitive to changes in water temperature, Berger said.
Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher supported another one-year moratorium on the fishery but voted against closing it down for three years.
He offered successful motions to create a team to adjust the management strategy to account for climate changes and made a motion to evaluate the effectiveness of the summer shrimp survey, both in hopes of having the best information for future decision-making.
"Climate change is driving the decline in this fishery. He's trying his best to put forward ideas for change and improvement in the science and in the management, to provide the best opportunity for a fishery in the future," said Jeff Nichols, spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources.
The shrimp, called Maine shrimp or northern shrimp, are small and pink, and prized by New Englanders. They have been mostly unavailable to U.S. consumers since the shutdown, though they are also harvested by Canadian fishermen.
-- David Sharp, Associated Press