2016 season began with small shrimp, low prices
BILOXI, Miss. -- Selling directly to the public takes longer, but it allows fishermen to make some profit from a shrimp season that has been below average so far this year in Mississippi.
Dave Burrage, commercial and recreational fisheries specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said shrimp landed in Mississippi have been small through mid-June.
“Shrimp season opened June 6, and about 200,000 pounds of brown shrimp were landed during the first week,” Burrage said. “The bad news is they were running about 50-60 or 60-70 shrimp per pound, which is even smaller than the shrimp were last year at opening.”
In addition to brown shrimp, another 50,000 pounds of larger white shrimp were landed the first week of the season. These shrimp escaped harvest last year and now are sized at 16-20 per pound.
“They were either jumbo or gumbo,” Burrage said, referring to extra-large shrimp or a smaller size suited only for use in stew.
Burrage said prices have been terrible. Brown shrimp are selling at the factories for 55 to 75 cents a pound. The big, white shrimp are bringing $2.50 to $4.50, depending on whether they are sold to factories or used to fill orders for restaurant customers.
“Because of the bad factory prices, a lot of guys who don’t normally do this are now direct marketing the shrimp to customers at the dock,” Burrage said.
Time spent at the dock selling shrimp is time not spent out on the water catching shrimp, making it a difficult season so far.
“The good news is that diesel prices, which are the bulk of operation costs, continue to be low,” Burrage said.
More good news is that water temperatures have been unseasonably high since the season opened.
“The shrimp grow quickly when the water temperature warms up,” he said. “They’re kind of like kudzu. They can grow a count size a week when the water is warm, so the shrimp are going to get larger as the season continues.”
Weather was bad on opening day, keeping many of the smaller shrimp boats in the harbor. Opening day saw only about 255 boats in the Mississippi Sound -- the strip of water between the coast and the barrier islands. Traditionally, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources counts more than 300 boats on their aerial reconnaissance at opening, but poor weather grounded the flight.
Frank Parker is captain of the Fair Maiden, which docks in Ocean Springs. He was named Shrimp King at this year’s Blessing of the Fleet in Biloxi, which launches shrimp season each year. Parker shrimps year-round, following season openings in the Gulf Coast states and fishing offshore the rest of the time.
“The shrimp have been really, really small, and I think they opened the season way too early,” Parker said. “They should have waited a week for the shrimp to get bigger.”
Parker estimated that both the size of the shrimp and the harvest numbers are smaller than last year. Combined with low prices, it has made it difficult for many fishermen.
“I have a niche market I sell to, so the price doesn’t affect me, but those selling to the public have it really hard,” he said.
Mississippi essentially has two shrimp seasons. First is the brown season, which are the ones that reach legal size when the season opens in the summer. By about mid-August, the majority of shrimp being caught are white shrimp, as the brown shrimp have moved offshore. The less prevalent pink shrimp are usually caught in early March.