Shrimpers Say "Not Much Going On" As Season Approaches

BILOXI (WLOX) -- South Mississippi shrimpers are about to enter uncharted waters. Shrimp season is about to open. But because of record setting fuel prices, fishermen are questioning whether they can afford to leave their docks.

As he stapled red, white, and blue streamers to his boat, Ronald Baker spotted a WLOX News camera and said, "Hey, how are y'all doing today?"

Baker is the captain of the King Arthur. And this fourth generation shrimper, whose family once lived on Deer Island, is the 2008 Biloxi Shrimp King.

"Yes, it's going to be an honor to kind of represent the seafood industry, and keep it going," he said. "That's always an honor, you know."

His coronation may be as cloudless as Friday's mid-morning weather, but dark skies seem to be hanging over south Mississippi's shrimping industry.

"There's really not much going on. I mean, you can see there's nobody down here," Baker noted. "All the boats are just sitting here, you know. Nobody's working."

Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's fuel prices. Whatever the reason, the buzz normally associated with Blessing of the Fleet weekend, and the upcoming Mississippi shrimp season, just doesn't seem to exist this year.

David Luke has felt the pinch.

"Knocked our business down. Just about killed us dead in the water," he said.

Luke runs a fuel and ice house on the eastern tip of Biloxi. Shrimpers have told him, "If they don't make anything this one trip coming in, they're going to tie it up, and go get a job, see what it's going to do."

Baker is kind of leery about what may happen at the shrimp docks.

"It kind of makes you wonder if everybody is going to try, if they're going to hang in there to see what the fuel prices are going to do, or see if there's going to be shrimp, because we really don't know what's out there just yet," he said.

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources has not set an opening date for the 2008 shrimp season. Whenever it is, Baker's family is hoping shrimpers keeps the industry alive.

Cynthia Powell is the shrimp king's daughter.

"It's disheartening not to see more people out here decorating," she said. "But we understand, because we're going through the same thing with the gas prices. We know how it is."

So the family's focus is celebrating Ronald Baker's coronation. The Bakers will worry about how much shrimp their king catches when boats finally head out to sea.

Two days of activities will highlight Blessing of the Fleet weekend. On Saturday, the schooners race across the Biloxi channel. And the fais do do returns to Biloxi's Town Green.

Sunday, both shrimp boats and pleasure boats will participate in the 79th Blessing of the Fleet.