Gulfport Shrimpers Say Shallow Waters Spell Deep Trouble

Some South Mississippi shrimpers say shallow waters are on the verge of putting them in deep financial trouble.

Because of an expansion at the Port of Gulfport back in 2003, the channel leading into its small craft harbor was rerouted.

Shrimpers say the new channel isn't big enough to properly navigate resulting in several boats getting stranded.

Frank Marshan was shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico Friday as Tropical Storm Arlene approached.

To escape Arlene, Marshan led a group of shrimp boats to Gulfport.

Two days later, he was trying to escape the Mississippi Sound.

"We were four boats," said Marshan. "Two of them got stuck, hit bottom, and messed the routers up."

Marshan estimates the damage to be in thousands.

"We're kind of tired," he said. "We need to get out of here. We need to get out of here because the boats are not making money."

As they went out to offer help, some Gulfport Shrimpers spoke of how the new channel had made stranded boats very common.

"This is occurring once a week. Somebody is stuck out here," said James Raffeo

"This channel that they dug is about half as wide and about 2 or 3 feet shallower than the old channel," said Mike Sevel. "These big boats are having a hard time getting in here and most of the time they don't make it."

Port officials say they have surveys to prove the channel meets federal requirements.

The key, they say, is in the navigation.

"If you're not in the center, the exact center of the project depth and width of the channel there is a very good likelihood that a vessel drawing a lot of water will touch bottom," said Port Director Don Allee.

Allee says as much as the Port would like to help the shrimpers, the US Army Corps of Engineers would have to approve a channel expansion.

Last week, Port officials approved their own proposal asking for the changes.

"We have to satisfy numerous state and federal agencies but we will do that," said Allee. "We will try to make this a priority and push it to the degree that we can."

How long it will take to get results no one knows but shrimpers don't think they can go on this way much longer.

"These big boats aren't going to be able to get in here and people will just keep tearing there stuff up," said Sevel. "This place is going to die as a fishing port is what's going to happen."

"Big boats won't come in here anymore and some of the people are going to go out of business because they're not going to have any boats," he added.

Port officials say the channel is 8 feet deep and 100 feet wide.

The proposal that would go before the Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies would make it 12 feet deep and 150 feet wide.