- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - How odd it was Thursday that the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission needed only a matter of minutes to decide the opening dates for the spring inshore shrimp season.

Years ago, maybe too many years ago to count, this process took two days during the first week of May to sort out all the information to determine the days shrimpers could ply the state’s “inside” waters for springtime’s brown shrimp run.

Back then, as many as 100 shrimpers expressed their opinions on what action the seven-member commission should take for those all-important opening dates.

Today, the process is so routine, so accepted, that it drew only two comments, and those came from Vermilion Bay interests, and one was about how much trouble abandoned crab traps cause Vermilion shrimpers.

Don’t take that lack of shrimpers’ comments to mean that community doesn’t care about this spring season.

What’s happened is that over the years, Wildlife and Fisheries’ Shrimp Study biologists compile so much information, and know the needs and wants of shrimpers in the state’s seven prime shrimping areas, that most shrimpers believe in the well-honed, date-setting process.

And with good reason: The folks in our state wildlife and fishery agency are a recognized leader in the United States and around the world in understanding shrimp movement, the complicated environmental factors that govern that movement, brown shrimp and white shrimp growth rates (even down to daily growth rates), and little things like the long-standing desire of Lake Pontchartrain to delay the opening of a season to ensure they will catch larger shrimp.

Heck, these folks have a model that comes darned close to predicting when 50 percent of the brown shrimp moving into our state estuaries will reach 100 count size (100 to the pound), a calendar date that’s mostly been accepted by shrimpers for the spring season’s opening days in the their zone.

To explain further, the state’s extensive research has become so precise that the zones are broken down into North and South areas in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, the Barataria Basin, East (Timbalier) and West (Caillou Boca) areas in the Terrebonne Basin along with the Vermilion-Teche and Mermentau-Calcasieu-Sabine basins.

What made State Shrimp Study leader Marty Bourgeois’s presentation Thursday different was that he didn’t present reams of information to explain why his staff decided we’ll have one of the latest seasons in 20 years. Waters along the Central Coast will open May 26 and waters on far eastern and far western waters will open June 2.

It’s no big secret, at least in shrimping circles, that our coldest winter in more than a decade and persistent cold fronts is a big reason for these late opening dates. Continued north winds inhibit brown shrimp from moving into our estuaries where, in most years, warmer and saltier water produce more and more rapidly growing brown shrimp.

Different, too, was Bourgeois alluding to continuing staff concerns about the lingering effects from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and that’s something that doesn’t show up in our state’s long history of shrimp management.