Shrimp Boats Face Federal Fishing Changes

Significant changes may be on the way for commercial fishermen who shrimp in federal waters. It's a measure known as "Amendment 13".

That amendment covers a series of changes, from the way fishermen keep their log books, to how information is collected about "by catch". Perhaps the most controverisal provision involves placing a moratorium on the number of shrimping permits allowed in federal waters.

Rising fuel costs and falling shrimp prices are the complaints heard most often around the docks in recent years. The shrimp industry's latest concern is the effort to limit the number of fishermen in federal waters.

Margaret Curole is with the Louisiana Shrimp Association.

"In the 70s and early 80s these was almost nine thousand boats out there. Right now I think we have three thousand boats, not even three thousand boats, and I think that shrimp amendment 13 is almost, not a necessary thing," she told the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Managment Council, meeting in Biloxi.

Regulating federal fisheries is that council's responsibility.

"The reason for the moratorium is to get a better handle on the number of vessels fishing in federal waters. For Mississippi, from three miles out," said council member, William "Corky" Perret.

Much of the Mississippi fishing fleet involves Vietnamese shrimpers. David Pham told the council many of his fellow fishermen aren't even aware of the permit requirements.

"Because they can't read. Can't speak English. Nobody tells them about it. Even I didn't know until my American friend, Don over there, he told me about it. So I got to know last year, so I could get mine last year," Pham told the panel.

One longtime commercial fisherman calls the moratorium on federal shrimping permits a slap at free enterprise and fair market competition. Bill Dekemel says with rising fuel costs and lower shrimp prices, there are already far fewer boats fishing in federal waters.

"An unnecessary moratorium such as this, puts an unnecessary burden on the people that may need to enter this fishery to support their families in the future," said Dekemel, as he testified before the management council.

Keep in mind, the regulations affect shrimping in federal, not state waters. In Mississippi, that's beyond three miles offshore. Of the roughly 900 licensed shrimp boats in Mississippi, about one fourth of those hold federal permits.