Researchers looking harder at white shrimp

GULF OF MEXICO — Mississippi Department of Marine Resources workers are sampling white shrimp deeper into coastal bays and estuaries than ever before, to see what remains in those nurseries, officials say.

They’re hoping to answer questions from shrimpers who say the Mississippi Sound catch has plummeted, Joe Jewell, deputy director of the Office of Marine Fisheries, told the Mississippi Press.

“The fishermen are concerned and the regulatory agencies are concerned. We hear what they (shrimpers) are saying and we’re addressing those concerns,” Jewell said.

Jewell said preliminary results found another batch of white shrimp in the bays and estuaries, but they’re running 80 to 100 per pound — smaller than the 68-per-pound minimum for legal harvest.

Preliminary results show that there is another batch of white shrimp in those bays and estuaries. Those shrimp are averaging 80 to 100 to the pound, Jewell said.

“They’ll need to get a little larger before they get into the Sound to be legal,” Jewell said. “We’re hoping for the best right now.”

Mature white shrimp generally begin falling out of marsh nursery areas when autumn water temperatures begin dropping below 68 degrees.

Jewell said with mid-day water temperatures still hovering around 70 degrees, the stepped-up monitoring has not shown any marked increase in the number of white shrimp leaving the shallows.

If the 2011 white shrimp season turns out to be a bust, Jewell said, it could from any combination of environmental conditions.

“The best part of this white shrimp season was early, then we got into September and it just dropped off dramatically,” Jewell said. “We really don’t know why. Outside of the results of our scientific studies, there could be a whole list of reasons why that happened.”

He said those could include the Army Corps of Engineers’ opening the Bonnet Carre spillway at New Orleans this spring to alleviate severe flooding on the Mississippi River, the severe drought that followed, possible impacts from the BP oil spill and even lingering effects from Hurricane Katrina.

“When you have that big of an event that sprawls across the northern Gulf to Mobile Bay, you’ll still have some long-term effects that we still don’t know about,” he said. “How all of these things interact, all of these really complex events that moved across the northern Gulf of Mexico, is something we haven’t yet determined.”

Mississippi commercial white shrimp landings over the past four years averaged 440,000 pounds a year with an annual value of about $937,000. These totals, from National Marine Fisheries Service landings data, do not include pounds of value of white shrimp caught for use as fish bait.

“Inside of each season you’ll have ups and downs and the occasional lulls and over a series of years you’ll have good years and bad years, but this particular year appears to be unique, though we don’t know why,” Jewell said. “It started off good, then slacked off and came to a dead halt. You don’t often see that.”

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