Warmer Waters Threaten Maine’s Shrimp Fishery

Graphic by Annabel Driussi

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

Lobster isn’t Maine’s only tasty crustacean: shrimp from the New England state were once a seasonal delicacy. But the fishery has been closed since 2013, and the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine has made survival difficult for the cold-water shrimp. This fall, a regulatory board is likely to extend the moratorium beyond 2021 given that the population is small and shrinking.

Looking at recent data hasn’t been very encouraging, and as you know, the ocean temperature isn’t cooling,” Dustin Colson Leaning, a fishery management plan coordinator for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, told the Associated Press

Why This Matters: The status of Maine’s shrimp impacts local fishing communities, who used to earn half a year’s pay off of the shellfish. Their decline is just one facet of the broader impact of the warming Gulf of Maine, which is warming faster than 99% of waters worldwide and hit its all-time high last summer at 69.85 degrees. Atlantic cod and salmon are no longer in the gulf, and as temperatures rise, it’s expected that lobster — the state’s most lucrative fishery — will scuttle north. These changing conditions will impact Maine’s economy and could change how fishery managers make decisions about when and how people can catch different species. 

Fishers and Farmers: While Maine’s traditional fisheries face an uncertain future, some people are banking on another kind of aquaculture: kelp. Most American kelp farms are off the coast of Maine, whose harvest is projected to grow from 54,000 pounds in 2018 to 3 million pounds in 2035. As the Boston Globe reports, “it’s an audacious experiment in a country that does not traditionally eat much seaweed, but it is seen as essential to bolstering Maine’s fragile economy” with other fisheries harmed by climate change. 

Maine is also home to an underwater carbon capture project using kelp to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and sink to the bottom of the ocean. 

We’re just fishing for carbon now, and kelp’s the net,” boat captain and fisherman Rob Odlin told NPR.

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