Maine shrimp season began on January 2nd this year, a little later than the usual December start, with a little controversy and alot of concern. Last year the the shrimpers passed their quota, bringing in 13 million pounds of shrimp. In response to this officials have sliced this year's quota to 4.4 million pounds, nearly a third of last years harvest. They feel as though the shrimp may be in danger of being over-harvested. Currently the fishery is in great standing with most third party sustainability ratings.
The problem is, during the winter months this fishery sustains most of the fishermen who will retire their lobster traps and fish nets to re-rig for the shrimp. Taking shrimp from the fishermen means taking money from their pockets and their families. The fishermen believe that officials have cut the quotas too short and that the fishery allows for more than the allotted 4.4 million pounds to be harvested sustainably. It is important to note that some fishermen can not begin work until February 1st because that is the start of trap season, in January only netters get to fish. Whatever is left of the quota when they begin is yet to be seen, but be sure they have concerns with what will be left for them to harvest.
The debate will go on as to who is right and as to what is right. This crossroads is not an anomaly in the seafood industry. The future of every fishery is under concern as stocks are being depleted and more people are eating seafood. Where we go from here is important and it's not as simple as who is right and who is wrong. The answers are blurred with differentiating data. Scientists against fishermen. Fishermen against officials. Officials against scientists. Everyone in the end is going to have to sacrifice, whether it's quotas, votes, pride, or portion sizes. We can not however continue to sacrifice seafood in the name of distrust and profit.
Maine shrimp are very tasty and are a vibrant sign of life during the harsh Maine winters. Usually the shrimp show up in markets as live, whole, or cleaned meat. I prefer my shrimp raw, eating the fresh tails as if they were strawberries picked from the sea. Many use them in ceviche and sauteing them in butter also works. They usually are stacked with fresh roe and this adds a delicate saltiness to the sweet meat. This season will be short for sure, so get to the market while they are still available. As you enjoy them, try to remember how wonderful such a natural resource can be and I hope you come to the same conclusion that I do; that it's just as important to enjoy our natural resources as it is to protect them.