Low salinity levels put the squeeze on live bait dealers

Pat Kuluz checks his live bait at the Biloxi Harbor Fuel and Bait on Thursday morning.
Pat Kuluz checks his live bait at the Biloxi Harbor Fuel and Bait on Thursday morning.

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The rocky road for live bait shrimp dealers continues. One week after a few small brown shrimp were reportedly caught in the Biloxi Channel inside Deer Island, heavy rainfall last Friday and this week dropped salinity levels to zero parts per thousand.

The end result is an abundance of freshwater flowing out of the bays and into the Mississippi Sound. The overly fresh water is having a direct impact on the spring time transition from white shrimp to brown shrimp, which are used by fishermen across South Mississippi through the fall for speckled trout, redfish and tripletail.

"We did find a few brown shrimp on Wednesday, but they were tiny," said Pat Kuluz, of Biloxi Harbor Fuel and Bait. "We had to go all the way out to the Intercoastal (Waterway) and they are tiny out there, too. It has to do with the salinity. On Tuesday and Wednesday, which was a 48 hour period, the salinity level at the bait shop was zero, and that's not good. I did check it this morning (Thursday), and it was up to five parts per thousand in 12 feet of water (Biloxi Small Craft Harbor). I think it's because we had a full moon and a tidal range of 2.5 feet. That tells me the only salinity we have is on the bottom."

A normal salinity level for May would be more than 10 parts per thousand.

In terms of when live shrimp will be available on a daily basis, Kuluz could only offer an estimation based on the fact that legal-size live shrimp that he can sell is 100 count or smaller.

Currently, the few brown shrimp being caught range between a 200 and 250 count.

"At least two weeks," Kuluz said. "I have to look at the calendar and see what month we are in. This is the weather that we generally see in April with cool fronts, north winds and heavy rainfall and it's hurting. The weather we're having has pushed live bait back two weeks, and that's something we have to live with. We need salinity and a southeast wind, but that will also push the freshwater from the Mobile Bay our way, too."

Kenny Dinero, of the Ocean Springs Marine Mart, can't remember the last time he saw salinity levels at zero parts per thousand.

"I don't know if I've ever seen it at zero," Dinero said. "I know it's been a long time. We went out Tuesday and caught 30 shrimp. We can't afford to work (boats) for that. The brown shrimp are so small and the rain is killing us. I am hoping things change tomorrow, but we have to get some salinity in here and it might be at least two weeks."

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