Shrimpers angry over scarce catches, low prices

Shrimp boats docked at St. Michael's Ice and Fuel in Biloxi.
Shrimp boats docked at St. Michael's Ice and Fuel in Biloxi.

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "In advance of the freshwater coming into Mississippi, we were catching excellent numbers of brown shrimp at all of our stations," reported Traci Floyd, Director of the DMR's Shrimp and Crab Bureau.

On Tuesday, Floyd gave the Commission on Marine Resources a glowing progress report on the 2011 Mississippi shrimp season.

"The week of June 8, we heard good reports of fishermen saying the shrimp are thick, meaning great catches," said Floyd. "We've even heard of record catch from one fisherman. So it's looking like a good year so far, in spite of the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening."

But several shrimpers disagreed with the report.

"These landing reports here, I don't like it, because it's false information," said shrimper Mark Stewart. "Opening day of the season, I had to go back to Louisiana because I couldn't catch any. The second week, I did catch some. But right now, the shrimp aren't there."

Another major concern is the price they're getting for their limited catch. The fishermen say last year, they were getting an average of $1.65 a pound. This year, the price has dropped drastically.

"Why we got the lowest prices on our shrimp? I'm begging you," shrimper James Miller asked the CMR.

"The price is set by the market, supply and demand," a commissioner responded.

"I can't work for 35 cents a pound sir," said Miller.

"We understand there is a price issue out there," said CMR Chairman Dr. Vernon Asper. "Believe it, we would like to see the highest price we possibly can as an agency, because we pride ourselves in being able to make the very best use of this resource that we can. We're not trying to hurt anybody. We're trying to do the best job we can."

Several shrimpers say they have lost so much money, they've had to dock their boats.

"I've been shrimping full time now for close to 20 years, and this is the first time I've ever took two weeks off in June. I mean, this is just unheard of," said shrimper Frank Parker.

"The shrimp don't seem like they want to grow," said shrimper Eddie Rhodes. "There's none in Mississippi right now. Everybody's been out looking, but they can't find none here."

The shrimpers say this is just the latest blow to their livelihood.

"Oil spill, freshwater, just everything," said Rhodes. "Just deal with it. We're fishermen. We'll survive, always have."

The DMR says most of the larger shrimp have been found on the east side of the Mississippi Sound.  The average count has been 51-to-60 shrimp per pound. The DMR findings are based on its own sampling, landings from seafood dealers, and reports from shrimpers.

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