Shrimp season interruption, low prices make tough year
BILOXI, Miss. -- Mississippi fishermen remain intent on harvesting this year’s shrimp crop in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico despite low prices and a season paused and restarted.
Dave Burrage, Mississippi State University Extension professor of marine resources at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said the shrimp season first opened June 3, closed June 19 when shrimp were too small, and then reopened July 13.
“This season has been an anomaly so far,” Burrage said.
The Mississippi season opened with 310 boats this year, down from 368 boats on opening day in 2014. Shrimpers landed 630,000 pounds of shrimp in Biloxi during the first two weeks of the season. This amount compares to 760,000 pounds landed there the first two weeks of last shrimp season.
Shrimp sizes have been similar to those seen last year, but prices have dropped drastically. Shrimp are measured by the number it takes to make up a pound. Both years, the majority of shrimp were 41/50 count, meaning it takes between 41 and 50 shrimp to make 1 pound.
“For the 41/50-count shrimp, last year the boats were getting from $2.40 to $3 a pound. This year, they got 95 cents a pound,” Burrage said. “That’s a big difference.”
Burrage said fisheries imports had a significant impact on price this year.
“The import countries have solved the problem they had been having with early mortality syndrome in their ponds, so there is more production on the market,” he said. “Buyers still had product they had bought at higher prices, and some had to sell it for a loss. That drove down the price for this year’s catch.”
Rick Burris, shrimp and crab bureau director in the Office of Marine Fisheries at the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, said shrimping waters were closed north of the Intracoastal Waterway when sampling showed the overall shrimp count to be higher than the amount state law requires. Shrimp must be at least 68 per pound for the season to open.
“The excessive amounts of rainfall we had from April to June continued to flush juvenile brown shrimp out of the estuaries, while at the same time lowering salinities, making it difficult for those shrimp to grow,” Burris said. “We reopened the area on July 13, when sampling showed the overall shrimp count to be of legal size.”
Burris said the last time the Department of Marine Resources closed this area during the season was in 2008.
“There is definitely an economic impact on the shrimp fishermen because they were basically out of work for three weeks, with the exception of the boats that fished the area south of the Intracoastal Waterway, which never closed,” he said.
Burris said the drastic decrease in price and the small size of the brown shrimp being caught make this a very tough season for fishermen.
“Hopefully, the white shrimp, which are showing up earlier than normal, will make up for some of the losses,” Burris said.
Mark Kopszywa is a fourth generation fisherman and owner/operator of the Renegade in Ocean Springs.
“My opinion was the season opened a week late,” Kopszywa said.
Although the shrimp were small, he and his deckhand caught 9,000 pounds in the first two days of the season. They went back out and caught another 6,000 pounds in four more days. When the season reopened, Kopszywa caught just 500 pounds in three days.
Kopszywa said when the season reopened, the brown shrimp had migrated out into deeper waters.
“If the shrimp are there, we need to catch them,” he said.