Conservation in Maine: where progress is happening

Marion Fernandez
 

When it comes to saving the environment, there has been a lot of governmental push-backs. Through the spread of disinformation, if not downright lies, that there is no truth behind climate change and other man-made environmental threats, any progress in the efforts needed to protect the environment has often been on a more local level. In the State of Maine, for example, there have been major strides made in conservation, much to the chagrin of some. This is what is happening.

The history of shrimping

A major food source, shrimp have been part of our diet for hundreds of years

Shrimp has been a staple of commerce and cuisine in New England as long as anyone can remember. There is evidence of humans consuming shrimp as far back as 600 AD in North America. Needless to say, shrimp is ingrained in the culture of the New England area. Beyond humans, shrimp are an important part of the food chain in the oceans, being consumed by larger animals, such as whales. With the advancement in technologies and the increased demand for shrimp as a product, the rate that shrimp were caught increased dramatically in the 1980s. Shrimp themselves are delicate creatures but are easily adaptable to different environments. The industry itself brings in around 50 billion dollars a year.

Catching shrimp

Many fishermen rely on catching shrimp as a huge part of their livelihood, and the ban on shrimp fishing has left them high and dry.

It was reported in the year 2010 that an estimated 12 million pounds of shrimp were caught in the Gulf of Maine alone, meeting the shrimping demands of both the locals as well as others all around the East Coast. Only three years later, the amount of shrimp caught was reduced to less than 500,000 pounds of shrimp.

Due to the significant reduction of the shrimp population in the Gulf of Maine, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s shrimp board ruled that there would be a moratorium on shrimping in the Gulf of Maine. The hope was that if fishing was suspended, the shrimp populations would have a better chance to recover and increase in order to have better catches in the future.

Backlash

Naturally, as shrimp fishing is a form of livelihood for many fishermen in the Gulf of Maine, stopping the shrimp industry means that that specific area of the economy was dramatically affected. Fishermen had to relocate or change jobs in order to support themselves, hoping that the shrimp ban would be lifted.

In 2017, the board met again, and fishermen were hoping that there would be a limit placed on the amount of shrimp that could be caught, but that fishing shrimp would be permitted once again. The suggestion was that there be a catch limit of 500,000 pounds, but the board left the moratorium in place, angering the fishing community.

Explanation

Even though the lack of shrimping has affected the economy in Maine, the reasons behind the moratorium are just. Because the population of shrimp shrank so dramatically over a three year period, continuing to fish for shrimp at the same rate would be certain to decimate the remaining population, while removing a vital source of food from the ocean’s ecosystem.

Climate change is adversely affecting Shrimp numbers, and halting shrimp fishing will hopefully help the numbers to recover. Just a few years back, shrimp fishing was taking out millions of pounds of shrimp from the seas, and if this continued without a check, it would leave the oceans empty of shrimp very quickly.

Due to climate change, the water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have increased, making it more difficult for shrimp to reproduce. While different varieties of shrimp reside in all types of conditions, the northern shrimp is not accustomed to water that is increasing in temperature at a rate twice as fast as the oceans themselves. Shrimp do not stand a chance of adapting so quickly to extreme temperature changes. The only hope is that climate change can be stopped or reversed. Continuing to catch shrimp while their habitat becomes unlivable will only kill the entire population of shrimp in the Gulf of Maine.

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