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Late cold fronts, lots of rain spell empty nets

Shrimp season could be a late bloomer this year

Biloxi — When the sun came up June 21, Mississippi’s 2005 shrimp season opened. There were a few more shrimp boats in the water than last year, but the season did not get off to a good start. So far catches are not plentiful and shrimp are small.

“The season is not looking too good,” said Mike Brainard of the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). “The catches are definitely below average. I think it will be a later season this year.”

Brainard, who directs the DMR’s Shrimp and Crab Bureau, says the lack of shrimp is due primarily to late cold fronts that kept water temperatures down and a huge amount of rainfall in early April. These weather conditions attacked shrimp larvae at a critical stage.

“There are still a lot of shrimp in the bays and bayous that will move out front,” he said. “I think they’ll come out in July and we’ll have a later season. I’m hoping that’s what will happen.”

The nutrient-rich estuaries provide an ideal habitat for juvenile shrimp to develop. As they reach maturity, they swim into the open Gulf of Mexico where they spawn.

Salvaging the season?

Brainard says the same conditions exist in Alabama and Louisiana. Many Mississippi shrimpers will return to Louisiana waters where the season got an earlier start. Most shrimpers in the three states fish in all three. He says Mississippi can salvage the season later if we don’t have a big rainfall in the next few weeks.

“The fishermen are discouraged,” Brainard said. “Having a low season on top of all the regulations, high fuel prices and competition from imported shrimp is not good.”

Clell Rosetti, whose family has owned Quality Seafood in Biloxi since 1948, says he’s seeing very few shrimp so far.

“It’ll be a terrible season from the way it looks now,” he said. “There are none in Alabama and Louisiana either. Some of the boats from Louisiana didn’t even put in their nets and the ones from Alabama only stayed half a day.”

He’s paying $1.30 at the docks for 50-60 shrimp but is getting very few locally harvested shrimp to sell. Last year the price for that size at the dock was 75 cents. Shrimp are sized by how many it takes to make a pound, thus 50-60 means it takes 50 to 60 shrimp to equal one pound.

“That size is all I’m seeing,” he added. “We’re paying more to the shrimpers but they have more costs this year and are catching fewer shrimp.”

Quality Seafood recently moved to a large new building on Division Street because of the widening of Biloxi’s Cailliavet Street. Rosetti is aware that imported shrimp hurt the local seafood industry, but says he has to sell them.

“I have to deal with imports,” he said. “Shrimp used to be a delicacy, but everyone can eat shrimp now because of imports.”

The DMR’s Brainard says there’s a marketing campaign to encourage the harvest, sale and consumption of wild American shrimp over the pond-raised imports. “Marketing for American shrimp is getting to be a big thing and Emeril Lagasse is the spokesperson,” he said.

The DMR’s Web site states that Gulf of Mexico shrimp landed in Mississippi continue to be a fresher, higher quality and better tasting shrimp than imported shrimp. Consumers are encouraged to ask for Gulf of Mexico shrimp when purchasing from a market or dining out.

Big impact

In 2003, the U.S. Congress appropriated $35 million in funds to aid the shrimping industry, which has been hard hit by declining prices due to the increasing amount and low price of imported shrimp and higher operating costs. Funds were allotted to states based on the volume of shrimp produced. Mississippi’s portion of the $17.5 million allotted to the Gulf of Mexico states was about $1 million.

According to Brainard, 17.6 million pounds of shrimp were landed in 2004 with a value of $25.5 million. As of June 20, the total number of commercial shrimp licenses sold this year was 688, consisting of 512 resident and 176 non-resident commercial licenses. In addition, 137 resident recreational shrimp licenses were sold. The license year runs from May 1 to April 30.

The DMR did an aerial count of shrimping vessels on opening day and counted 603 vessels compared to 538 last year and over 1,000 two years ago. The majority of boats were congregated near Petit Bois, Horn and Cat islands.

“This year the majority of boats counted on opening day consisted of larger vessels,” Brainard said. “This reflects the Gulf-wide trend of fewer small shrimp vessels and vessels over 45 feet dominating the fishery.”

Brown, white and pink shrimp are caught in Mississippi waters and 85% are brown. They are most abundant from June through October.

For more information on domestic shrimp, visit the industry’s Web site at www.wildamericanshrimp.com.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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