The author is an adjunct professor at the Rimouski Institute of Marine Sciences and President and CEO of M-Expertise Marine, a consulting firm specializing in environmental and oceanographic services.
For many people, northern shrimp and snow crab and lobster form the Holy Trinity of crustaceans. However, this year there will be less northern shrimps on our plates. Because, unlike the other two, these tiny six-legged pink crustaceans, sometimes referred to as Matane shrimp, are getting increasingly fragile. And experts are trying to somehow ensure the sustainability of this precious resource. Northern shrimp stocks are currently among the lowest in 30 years, scientists from the Shrimp Advisory Committee conclude.
Quotas will be tightened so that fewer shrimp will be caught in 2022: a few hundred tons less than the 18,000 tons allocated in 2021. Gaspésie Owners Captains Co-op in an interview with Radio-Canada in February.
The northern shrimp, whose length does not exceed ten centimeters – its size is largely influenced by the ambient temperature or the sex of the individual (females are smaller) – is found in the three oceans surrounding our country, in cold waters it fluctuates between 2 °С and 6°С. Despite its small size, this shrimp plays a key role in ecosystems, feeding on a wide variety of prey, down to fish carcasses, a wide variety of which can be detected (using DNA) in its stomach due to its scavenging behavior. This has even led some scientists to propose the northern shrimp as an effective natural sampler to assess the molecular diversity of fish in marine ecosystems.
In the Atlantic part alone, including the areas of the estuary, Sept-Île, Anticosti and the Eskiman Canal (between Newfoundland and the North Shore), more than 17,000 tons per year are usually caught. More than half of the reserves from these regions are exported to overseas markets, including China, Denmark, the US, the UK and Japan. It is one of the most important fisheries in the world, generating about half a billion dollars in annual income for Canadian fishermen.
In the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, this crustacean has been caught by a trawl – a large net deployed from the stern of a ship – since the 1960s. Initially, catches were estimated at several tens or even several hundred tons. , and only in 1982 did we begin to introduce a quota for reserves (at that time 12,999 tons). The largest quotas were allocated in the early 2000s (more than 35 thousand tons), and since 2015 they have been falling from year to year.
Various factors explain the decline in shrimp stocks. Global changes such as rising water temperatures and declining oxygen levels in the St. Lawrence River, just like everywhere else. But also changes in the very structure of the ecosystem, which means that there are more and more predators, such as sea bass.
What is a reserve valuation?
Following the February meeting of the Shrimp Advisory Committee, which brought together scientists and industry experts, it was decided that care must be taken to ensure that we do not see the shrimp stock disappear.
Like most Canadian marine resources, the shrimp stock is managed like a bank account. The balance is increased by juveniles reaching sufficient size and decreased by predators or fishing. In order to assess what a “withdrawal” might be, experts also consider the ecosystem approach to fisheries (which considers several species at the same time, in addition to assessing the products and services that this structure provides to humanity). They also develop harvesting strategies based on the precautionary principle – taking a little less than we could in order to keep a small supply just in case.
The Department of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard have not yet announced their decision on the quotas that will be allocated to shrimp in 2022.