BILOXI — Shrimp harvesters in Mississippi’s Gulf of Mexico waters are reproducing last year’s above-average catch, but they have little reason to celebrate as prices run about 20% lower than in 2001.
Brown shrimp season opened in Mississippi June 6. Shrimpers landed about one million pounds in Biloxi ports during the first week of the season. Shrimp in 2002 are smaller than those caught during the opening of the 2001 season, which was an excellent year for production.
“Production has been as good this year as it was last year, but prices have been terrible,” said Dave Burrage, professor of marine resources with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Biloxi.
Burrage said yields are good because of dry weather early in the year. Young shrimp grow in the marshes and tributaries of rivers along the Coast. Without much rain, the salinity, or salt level, in these nurseries rises, allowing shrimp to move further inland.
“This gives the shrimp more marsh area to feed and hide in, and with warmer-than-normal temperatures, the shrimp grew quickly,” Burrage said.
Despite production that matched last year’s above-average yields, shrimpers are hurting this year because of poor prices. Prices for most shrimp last year were from $1.70 to $2 per pound, but this year range from $1.35 to $1.75 a pound.
“Shrimp is typically a luxury item consumed in restaurants and not a staple people pick up at the grocery store,” Burrage said. “Since Sept. 11, people haven’t been traveling and eating out as much. The consumption in this country has gone down.”
Compounding the reduced consumption are imports. Burrage said although the Gulf produces 80 to 85% of the nation’s shrimp harvest, the country imports 80% of the shrimp consumed in the United States. These shrimp come from countries such as China, Thailand and Ecuador where labor and production costs are lower.
“We only produce 20% of what is consumed in this country, so we don’t dictate what the price is,” Burrage said. “The poor fisherman is getting less money for his production, but his operating costs haven’t gone down at all. He’s still paying top dollar for his supplies.”
Bonnie Coblentz is a writer for MSU Ag Communications.