In December, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced a 72 percent cut for the 2013 shrimping season, and Maine’s shrimping community is scrambling to adapt. The commission announced to set a quota of 625 metric tons, down from 2,400 metric tons in 2012, and stagger the season to start January 22 for trawlers and February 5 for trappers. The decision was made against the advice of its own Northern Shrimp Technical Committee, which recommended a moratorium for 2013. Shrimpers lobbied to keep the season open, saying even a small season is vital to keep the industry afloat.

“Everybody in the room decided a crumb is better than none,” said Gary Libby of Port Clyde Fresh Catch, a cooperative groundfishing venture that includes shrimp trawling.

The move to cut the shrimping season wasn’t a surprise. The previous shrimping season was cut short after just a few weeks, and summer surveys showed that the Northern shrimp population is in trouble. The survey found that shrimp were small in size in general and that two year-classes were absent, said Michael Waine, Fishery Management Plan Coordinator with the commission. The results were surprising, even for a fishery known for boom and bust cycles.

“We’ve had similar situations, but we haven’t had two absent year-classes in a row,” Waine said.

There isn’t enough data to prove conclusively why the shrimp population has been decimated, but warming ocean temperatures likely play a major role, Waine said. The Gulf of Maine has seen record temperatures in recent years, and Northern shrimp in the gulf can’t tolerate the heat.

“These shrimp are in the southern extent of their range, which means they are in warm water to begin with,” he said. “Take that and add a lot of increased water temperature, and it’s not the best environment for shrimp.”

The shrimping industry also has been historically boom and bust when it comes to participation. Shrimping is seen as a supplemental-income fishery for both groundfishermen and lobstermen, and participation has spiked in recent years as the other fisheries have faltered.

“You can always count the boats in the fishery and see when you’re going to have a decline,” Libby said.

Libby hopes that enhanced efforts to provide real-time reporting of shrimp catches and new management regulations will help prevent overfishing this season. Curbing ocean temperatures will be more difficult, said Waine.

“All I can say is, I hope for a very cold winter for New England. The resource really needs it,” Waine said.

Maine’s shrimp fishermen generally are resigned to the cuts for the good of the fishery, said Tim Simmons, president of the Maine Shrimp Trappers Association. He feels trappers should have gotten a bigger share of the pie, but he knows both trappers and trawlers must take a deep cut to keep the fishery from collapse.

“Obviously, I don’t like it any more than anybody else does, but according to the science”¦we’d be overfishing them otherwise,” said Simmons.

But knowing the cuts are necessary won’t take the economic sting out of the reduced season, as many are bracing for a loss of revenue they were counting on to get them through the winter lull. How much income the season brings will depend on how quickly the shrimp are harvested, said Angelo Ciocca, president of Nova Seafood in Portland. Quickly maxing out on the quota could make the price for shrimp plummet, as processors scramble to make use of the catch, said Ciocca.

Stakeholders worry the shrimp industry’s processing infrastructure could collapse with the reduced quota. It was expensive to get shrimp processing up and running again after the last collapse of the fishery, said Ken La Valley, assistant director of New Hampshire Sea Grant.

“When the shrimp were back, it was difficult for us to do much with it but ship it to Canada,” La Valley said.

The damage may already be done, processors warn. Maine shrimp products lost markets last year with the abbreviated 2012 season, said Spencer Fuller, shrimp manager at Cozy Harbor Seafood in Portland. Another bad season will send customers fleeing from the Maine shrimp industry, he said.

“Instability in supply is not a good component of your marketing strategy, to be sure,” Fuller said.

Fishery managers are attempting innovative ways to manage the fishery to reduce over-harvesting, but these measures won’t do much to change the bleak numbers for the shrimp population in the next few years, said Waine.

“The future is not encouraging because you’ve got two really poor year classes coming down the pipeline,” Waine said.

Craig Idlebrook is a freelance writer living in Medford Mass.