GULF OF MEXICO — Mississippi officials say early results from the opening of the brown shrimp season are pointing to a good season, but shrimpers are grumbling about prices they are getting for what they say are too small shrimp.
Traci Floyd, director of the state Department of Marine Resources Shrimp and Crab Bureau, says 903,908 pounds of brown shrimp were caught in the two weeks after the brown shrimp season started May 25. She says that compares with first two weeks of 2007 when the catch was 1.96 million pounds.
Mark Stewart, an Ocean Springs shrimper, said the shrimp have been small and scarce in Mississippi waters. He says that has resulted in low prices.
“In advance of the freshwater coming into Mississippi, we were catching excellent numbers of brown shrimp at all of our stations,” said Floyd. “The week of June 8, we heard good reports of fishermen saying the shrimp are thick, meaning great catches. So it’s looking like a good year so far, in spite of the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening.”
Several shrimpers disagreed with Floyd’s glowing report.
A major concern is the price they’re getting for their limited catch. The fishermen said last year, they were getting an average of $1.65 a pound. This year, the price has dropped drastically.
“Why we got the lowest prices on our shrimp? I’m begging you,” shrimper James Miller said. “I can’t work for 35 cents a pound.”
“We understand there is a price issue out there,” said CMR Chairman Dr. Vernon Asper.
The MDMR says most of the larger shrimp have been found on the east side of the Mississippi Sound. The average count has been 51-to-60 shrimp per pound. The DMR findings are based on its own sampling, landings from seafood dealers, and reports from shrimpers.
Floyd said this year’s catch comes as the fishing effort has declined. There were 162
boats fishing on opening day compared to 300 in 2007.
Steve Bosarge, a Pascagoula shrimper and commission member, said there have been some good shrimp caught in the eastern Mississippi Sound.
“You have to wonder why these shrimp are quite small and it may be attributed to whatever, we don’t know, oil spill, freshwater, whatever. I agree they are running smaller than normal.
“You know … this is the market. The price is set by the market — supply and demand.
“Prices on small shrimp, that’s going to be a tough to crack in that they (foreign producers) can raise them so much cheaper than we can catch them,” Bosarge said. “And, because we are only 10 percent of the market there is not a lot of room to bump that price.”
Several shrimpers say they have lost so much money, they’ve had to dock their boats.
“I’ve been shrimping full time now for close to 20 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever took two weeks off in June. I mean, this is just unheard of,” said shrimper Frank Parker.
“The shrimp don’t seem like they want to grow,” said shrimper Eddie Rhodes. “There’s none in Mississippi right now. Everybody’s been out looking, but they can’t find none here.”
The shrimpers say this is just the latest blow to their livelihood.
“Oil spill, freshwater, just everything,” said Rhodes. “Just deal with it. We’re fishermen. We’ll survive, always have.”