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Season of Struggle for Mississippi Shrimp Farmers

by the Fish Site Editor
21 July 2009, at 1:00am

MISSISSIPPI STATE, US - Low prices and below-average landings are making a poor season for shrimpers, but consumers are getting a great deal on high-quality Gulf shrimp.

Dave Burrage, professor of marine resources with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said Mississippi’s shrimp season opened late and in two phases, reports Bonnie Coblentz, MSU Ag Communications. Normally the season opens in early June, and part did open June 7, but the rest did not open until June 25.

“Production was bad and the prices were bad. So far, it hasn’t been a very good season,” said Burrage, who works in Biloxi at MSU’s Coastal Research and Extension Center.

During the first 10 days of the season, shrimpers landed 580,000 pounds of brown shrimp in Biloxi. Shrimpers landed 900,000 pounds of brown shrimp during that same time in 2008.

Shrimp are smaller this year, too. Early in the season, shrimpers can count on catching white shrimp left over from the previous year’s harvest. These large shrimp carry premium prices and are sold as tails. In 2008, 117,000 pounds of white shrimp tails were landed, but just 57,000 pounds of the same shrimp were landed this year.

“The numbers for this year may be slightly skewed because we’re seeing more people selling from their boats,” Burrage said. “We’re seeing bigger boats that typically would sell at the factory marketing their shrimp directly at dockside to people who go down with coolers.”

Shrimp are sold according to how many make up a pound. Direct-to-consumer sales are about $2-$3 a pound. Brown shrimp size 51-60 bring 91 cents a pound at the factory. Size 41-50 shrimp can be sold commercially for $1.05 a pound. Last year, these shrimp were selling commercially for $1.25 and $1.40 a pound, respectively.

Prices are so poor that only 230 boats left port on the first opening day. There were 372 shrimp licenses sold this year. On the second opening, 212 boats were counted. As recently as five years ago, 800 boats would turn out for shrimp season’s opening day.

“I don’t remember ever seeing an opening day when some boats stayed tied up,” Burrage said. “They didn’t want to burn fuel for the little bit of shrimp out there.”

Steve Bosarge of Bosarge Boats Inc. has owned his business in Pascagoula since 1976.

“I’d say prices are at 20-year lows,” Bosarge said. “It’s tough. Production has maybe been a little below average, and the season opening in two portions spread the production over a little longer period of time.”

Bosarge said the season typically slows down in August once brown shrimp have been heavily fished and before white shrimp migrate into the Sound for harvest beginning in September. He said the lull this year will keep some boats at home in August as the low shrimp prices will not make it worthwhile to pay for fuel and a crew to catch a limited harvest.

“As long as there is good production, there is still money to be made,” Bosarge said. “When the production is down and prices are depressed, it’s hard to make money.”

Bosarge is a board member of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, a trade organization working to establish wild American shrimp as a superior product to imported, pond-raised shrimp.

“We’re trying to bring a premium for a superior product,” he said.

the Fish Site Editor