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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

OK. Let's work out way across the Caribbean up to the Gulf of Mexico, all the way across to the East Coast of the United States. That's the geographic journey we're going to make to get to the Gulf of Maine shrimp. They're small, delicious in salads and sauces, but now they're off the menu - for the time being at least. Earlier this week regulators voted to shut down the New England fishery for the first time in 35 years, because stocks are judged to be dangerously low. Maine Public Broadcasting's Tom Porter has the story.

TOM PORTER, BYLINE: New England cooks like Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley are still coming to terms with the news - no more shrimp until further notice.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISHES CLANGING)

PORTER: They're getting the kitchen ready for dinner at Hugo's Restaurant in downtown Portland, a stylish upscale eatery they co-own, just yards from the city's working waterfront. Taylor says they pride themselves on serving fresh, local seafood.

ANDREW TAYLOR: Shrimp is just one of those treasures in the winter of Maine.

PORTER: He says Maine shrimp normally hit the menu in January or February. They may not be big - they're about an inch-and-a-half long - but he says they're full of flavor.

TAYLOR: You see them on other menus as bay shrimp and they are the tiny little tails that come in all those salads, and a lot of those are provided by the state of Maine. They're used frozen all over the country and all over the world.

PORTER: Mike Wiley says shrimp will be sorely missed this winter, but he understands the reasons.

MIKE WILEY: It means one less, you know, exciting local product to work with, but, you know, we'd like to see Maine shrimp on the menu ten years from now, rather than we need to have it on the menu for this upcoming year.

KELLY WHITMORE: The stock is in the poorest condition that we've seen it.

PORTER: That's Marine biologist Kelly Whitmore, chair of the technical committee that recommended the closure of the fishery, which regulators approved at a meeting this week. It's the first such closure since 1978. Warmer oceans and the changing environment definitely play a part, she says, but so does overfishing.

WHITMORE: We've had three years of recruitment failure, which is unprecedented to have three years in a row.

PORTER: By recruitment failure she means there are not enough young shrimp coming through to rebuild the population. Fishery experts, industry officials and many fishermen therefore say there's a strong likelihood that regulators will vote to keep the fishery closed beyond 2014 - for at least two more years. Commercial fisherman Gary Libby says it's the worst situation he's known since he got into the business nearly 35 years ago.

GARY LIBBY: Started shrimp fishing just after the last closure in '79.

PORTER: This time round, he says things are much worse.

LIBBY: We're looking at an anomaly that we haven't seen before, so what they did was warranted.

PORTER: Not everyone however thinks the complete closure of the fishery was justified. Spencer Fuller says some shrimping should have been allowed to continue, albeit with much reduced quotas. He works for Cozy Harbor Seafood, which processes and ships Maine product across the globe.

SPENCER FULLER: And we've been able to establish ourselves in major retailers in Europe.

PORTER: Just three years ago, he says, they were shipping thousands of metric tons of Gulf of Maine shrimp - much of it ending up on the shelves of markets in places like the U.K., Sweden and Denmark. With no more shrimp, he says a crucial toe-hold in overseas markets will be lost.

FULLER: It's very difficult, one, to get that shelf space, two, to hold it, but even more difficult to get it back again.

PORTER: He says the only way to get that presence back when the fishery recovers, will be to significantly lower the price. For NPR News, I'm Tom Porter in Portland, Maine.

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