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Larger Shrimp, Better Prices Seen This Season
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Weather that has been bad for crops and lawns is just what shrimpers need to make this year good for shrimp.
"The same things that have been bad for the cotton and the gardens and the lawns has been good for the shrimp," said Dave Burrage, Extension fisheries specialist at Mississippi State University's Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. "The lack of rainfall and hot weather has been ideal for shrimp production."
Burrage said a lack of rain means bayous and marshes have higher salinity, or salt concentration in the water. Because of this, shrimp are able to forage deep in the bayous, making them available for harvest later in the season when they move into the Gulf.
Mississippi's shrimp season opened June 1, and first week landings in Biloxi were about 15 percent lower than last year. Burrage said shrimpers landed 630,000 pounds of shrimp in Biloxi that first week, down from 730,000 pounds in 1999. The lower landings may be due in part to fewer shrimp boats out for the opening.
"With significantly fewer boats chasing after the shrimp, that difference in total landings may have been lower, but it's very likely that the individual boats' landings were higher," Burrage said.
Both shrimp sizes and prices are up from last year, making it easier for shrimpers to absorb the higher costs of diesel fuel, which is averaging 30 cents a gallon more than last year.
Burrage said most of this year's shrimp have been medium- sized, 31- to 40-count shrimp. Count refers to the number needed to make one pound. About 50,000 pounds of 21- to 25-count shrimp also have been caught. Medium shrimp bring $2.10 a pound at the factories, while larger shrimp bring $2.80, both prices about 50 cents a pound higher than last year, Burrage said. By selling to customers at the dock, shrimpers can get even more.
Robert Begnaud of Biloxi has shrimped for about 40 years. He stays out four to five days at a time on his 46-foot boat, the Miss Enda, and said the season has been pretty good this year.
"We started off the season with 26- to 30-count shrimp. Last year we started with 36- to 40-count," Begnaud said. "From what I've seen so far, there are more shrimp out there. This year we haven't had the rain, and the water has been warm, so the shrimp have been larger."
Begnaud brings back about 10 to 15 100-pound boxes of shrimp each time he docks.
"I prefer to unload at the factory, but you can't get the money at the factory that you can by peddling. You can get 40 cents over factory prices if you peddle," Begnaud said, referring to selling the shrimp to consumers directly off the boat.
Burrage said shrimp prices are driven by imports as only about 25 percent of the shrimp consumed in the United States are produced here. Of that, 80 percent is caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the nation's shrimp is imported and is usually pond- raised in Asia and Latin America. This year, disease problems forced foreign farmers to sell their shrimp smaller rather than risk losing entire stocks.
"Because the imported shrimp size is falling, there is a scarcity of larger shrimp," Burrage said. "The Gulf is producing the larger shrimp, and that's why our price is up."