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Shrimp prices, fuel costs hurt year's potential
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- An abundance of large shrimp should translate to a great year for Mississippi's industry, but high fuel costs and poor prices are making it hard for fishermen to justify the effort.
Dave Burrage, professor of marine resources with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Biloxi, said the catch is running just a little above the same period last year. However, the harvest is still below the five-year average.
“Mississippi usually harvests around 4 million pounds of headless shrimp by the end of June. But for this year and last year, the harvest has been closer to 2 million pounds for that period,” he said. “The reason is not resources, but the production sector of the fisheries.”
Burrage said in recent years, one of the largest portions of operating costs has been fuel. At the same time, the price of shrimp is running 25 percent to 30 percent lower than it was last year and half what fishermen were getting five years ago.
“Burning fuel to harvest low-priced shrimp means shrimpers will be going backwards whenever they go out,” Burrage said.
He said as the Gulf Coast continues a slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina, many of the shrimp normally landed in Mississippi are going to Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. Mother Nature healed itself a lot better than mankind has been able to along the Coast. While there are plenty of shrimp in the Gulf, fuel docks and ice plants along the coast are still struggling with the impact of the storm. Most losses were uninsured.
“Our landings in Mississippi do not accurately reflect what is happening in the Gulf. Production for the entire Gulf was about 68 million pounds (headless) by the end of June, and that's much higher than the 50 million pound average,” Burrage said. “The biggest increase has been seen in Louisiana. They were able to restore shoreside facilities faster there than in Mississippi, possibly because they have more incentive from a greater dependency on the shrimping industry.”
Sandra Bosarge, who co-owns Bosarge Boats Inc. in Pascagoula, said they have cut back significantly on shrimping because of the cost of the fuel and low market prices. Her boats landed in Alabama the shrimp harvested during the few trips made in 2006.
“Some shrimp boats are being used to remove debris around oil rigs or in the shipping channel,” Bosarge said. “It's hard to find other uses for the boats. Commercial fishing requires a very specific set of skills that does not always lend itself to other types of work.”
Bosarge said the remaining processors have less competition so they can be more selective in what they buy and how much they pay. They also have financial limitations in how much they can buy, leaving fishermen with even fewer options.