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Shrimp Prices High, Production Average
BILOXI -- Mississippi shrimpers are enjoying the benefits of higher prices and a 1997 harvest coming in two waves.
Dave Burrage, extension marine resources specialist in Biloxi, said opening shrimp landings should be similar to June 1996 landings of 2.6 million pounds of tails-only shrimp. Comparable figures for this year are not yet available.
However, Biloxi, which has 80 percent of the state's processing capability, landed 749,500 pounds of heads-on shrimp the first week of the season. In 1996, shrimpers landed 624,100 pounds in Biloxi the first week.
Prices for shrimp sold off the boats are averaging 25 percent higher than last year. Headless 41- to 50-count shrimp are selling for $3.80 this year, while 26- to 30-count tails are bringing in $5.33.
"Lower production in Louisiana earlier this year and disease problems in overseas aquaculture shrimp farms are lowering shrimp supplies and raising prices," Burrage said.
The Mississippi season opened June 17 when the shrimp count reached 68, which means 68 shrimp make a pound. Burrage said by the last week of June, shrimp were at 36- to 40-count.
Strange weather patterns, cooler water temperatures, lower food supplies and low salinity, among other factors, caused a late shrimp season opening this year.
Shrimp enter the estuaries -- fish nurseries -- in late January and early February, mature there and move to the Gulf of Mexico for harvest by early June. This year, tiny shrimp moved into the estuaries in two waves, and so are maturing and returning to the Gulf at two different times.
Not all areas of the Gulf have been opened for shrimping because of the distinctly smaller group of shrimp not yet big enough to be harvested.
Burrage said this situation should benefit Mississippi shrimpers. When the season opened, large shrimping boats from Florida to Texas were in Mississippi waters taking advantage of season-opening high catches. These large boats have since moved on, following the shrimp in the Gulf.
Smaller shrimp boats which typically only fish Mississippi waters will have little outside competition as they harvest this second crop.
"The shrimp that entered the estuaries later, matured later, and Mississippi shrimpers will have the benefit of the second wave," Burrage said.
Despite bad weather and a late opening, 800 boats were in Mississippi waters when the season opened. Preliminary reports of nightly catches indicated an average season.
"With that many boats, everybody's slice of the pie was smaller, but fishermen will have an average year in terms of how much shrimp are being caught," Burrage said.
Although a boon to the local economy, the shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico only account for about 20 percent of the total shrimp consumed in the country. The remainder are imported, and the majority of these are raised through aquaculature, Burrage said.