Fewer boats and bigger shrimp. That just about sums up the first day of Mississippi's shrimp season, which began Wednesday at 6am.
An aerial survey of the shrimp boats by the Department of Marine Resources' staff showed a substantial decrease in the number of smaller craft and shrimp boats on the waters: 306 shrimp boats this year compared to 633 shrimp boats last year. The majority of boats were congregated from Horn Island west to Petit Bois Island.
Thanks to Katrina, the shrimpers that were on the water snagged mainly tree limbs, derelict crab traps and an occasional lawn chair. Add to that the troubles shrimpers faced before Katrina.
"Shrimpers still have to deal with economic difficulties, which existed prior to the storm such as high fuel prices, low shrimp prices and competition from imports. All of these obstacles combined are making it very difficult for the post-Katrina shrimp fishery in Mississippi to recover," DMR's Shrimp and Crab Bureau Director Mike Brainard said.
The shrimpers' plight to find fuel, ice and docking space hasn't gone unnoticed by the Biloxi Port Commission. According to Director Frankie Duggan, plans are being made to better accommodate fishermen.
"We see the need definite for expanding marinas and try to get more space for commercial fishing boats. Fuel and ice has become a real big problem to our fishing fleet now. We want to redevelop some land in order to accommodate fuel and ice. Those are some of the big issues. We've got to keep our commercial fishing industry here. And, of course, our charter boat and recreational fishing is very important to us too," Duggan said.
Duggan said the Biloxi Port Commission already has money it can use to expand the lighthouse fishing dock to accommodate large freezer boats that can service the shrimpers.
There are also fewer seafood processors up and running in South Mississippi. In fact, this is the first shrimp season since Hurricane Camille that Gollott's Seafood in D'Iberville has not been open.
Gollott's is one of the Coast's oldest seafood processing plants. Brian Gollott said they planned on opening before the season began, but construction delays pushed that back for another month.