MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — For years there has been a trend towards more shrimp boats chasing fewer shrimp in Mississippi waters, making each shrimper’s share of the pie smaller. But the 2000 shrimp season officially opened June 1 with nearly 25% fewer shrimp boats than in 1999, and larger shrimp than usual, as well.
Part of the decline in the number of shrimp boats may be because shrimpers from Louisiana and Alabama aren’t converging on Mississippi as usual because shrimping is equally good in neighboring states this year.
“It’s kind of like we’re in our own playground,” said Junie Desporte, owner, Desporte & Sons Seafood Inc., Biloxi. “If the shrimp in Louisiana and Alabama are running smaller and the catch is not there, they will come over here. We do the same thing. The difference this year is that Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are all catching the same size shrimp. Because of the lack of rain, the shrimp stayed in one spot and grew. Everybody’s catching shrimp in their own state, so there’s not the normal amount of boats out there. It’s better for our local guys because they aren’t cutting up the pie so much.”
Primarily larger shrimp are being caught, averaging 31 to 35 shrimp per pounds. Prices are running about $2.50 to $3 per pound, with lower prices for smaller shrimp. Some smaller shrimp are being caught toward Ocean Springs, and more small shrimp will be flushed out of the bayou nursery grounds if the area receives rain as forecast.
For Mississippi residents who enjoy making a trip to the Coast this time of year to stock up with shrimp, Desporte recommend coming before the end of June.
“Now’s the time to save money on shrimp,” Desporte said. “Availability towards the end of the month could be scarce. Don’t go past June with getting shrimp.”
Many shrimp lovers both from the Coast and points north enjoy buying shrimp right off the shrimp boats. That gives the shrimper a boost with higher prices than if the catch were sold wholesale. But prices are generally just as good at retail outlets like Desporte and Sons Seafood.
“If people don’t want to fight the heat and stand in line, they can come in and we’ll ice them up for basically the same price,” Desporte said.
Mike Brainard, biological program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, said it is early to predict the entire season. But early reports are good.
“Pretty much everyone I have talked to has been pretty pleased,” Brainard said. “The size is good, and there are plenty of them.”
Brainard agreed that good shrimping in neighboring states may have been a factor behind the decline in the number of shrimp boats trawling the Mississippi Sound on opening day. Increasing costs, particularly for fuel, and regulatory requirements may also be factors.
“It seems like every year with more regulations, some people get out of the business, and the fleet gets more streamlined,” Brainard said. “Gas prices are up and, like any business, when operating costs go up, it makes it tough for you. The little guys get forced out, and the big guys keep going on.”
There were 727 shrimp boats counted on opening day this year compared to 942 in 1999, 1,000 in 1998, 860 in 1997 (a year with bad weather on opening day), and 1,300 in 1996.
Last year the dockside value of shrimp landed in Mississippi was $31 million. Early indications are that this year will be just as good, if not better.
It has also been a good year for oyster production.
“We’re for sure at a 20-year high,” said Scott Gordon, biological program coordinator for the shellfish program at DMR. “We have had an excellent year. We have had very few closures due to lack of rain. It was one of the best seasons in recent memory.”
Favorable weather conditions are part of the reason so many oysters have been harvested. Gordon also credits the legislature giving DMR the authority to implement oyster management plans, hard work from harvesters and the marine patrol, and federal disaster money that allowed planting material on reefs to allow oysters a suitable substrate to attach to.
While the lack of rainfall means there have been few closures due to sewage contamination that occurs with stormwater runoff, lack of freshwater also makes the water saltier and more favorable for the parasitic oyster drills.
“Oysters drills are always a concern,” Brainard said. “We do need rainfall. I was just looking on the Internet trying to wish some rain this way. It looks like we may be getting some. But we are in severe drought conditions right now.”
By the end of May 407,678 sacks of oysters with an average value of $13 per sack paid to oystermen had been harvested in Mississippi for a total value of $5.3 million. The economic impact of oysters considering retail and restaurant sales would run much higher.
With higher production than normal, Mississippi has had an impact on the market for oysters in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’ve been very competitive on the market,” Gordon said. “In fact, I understand we are having some effects on Louisiana and Texas which generally have a much larger oyster harvest.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.