- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Early catches are showing small to medium shrimp coming in on trawls in Mississippi.

“We communicated with several boats that reported decent catches of 40-50/50-60-count brown shrimp between Deer and Horn islands,” said Rick Burris, director of the Shrimp and Crab Bureau of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

“We also had reports of 50-60s (small) and even some 36-40s (medium) west of the Gulfport Ship Channel,” Burris said Wednesday.

According to local media reports, an aerial survey showed 310 shrimp vessels working in Mississippi waters Wednesday. The heaviest concentrations were 42 boats east of Deer Island, 25 south of Deer Island, 41 south of the Broadwater, 36 northeast of Horn Island and 28 southwest of Long Beach.

But prices aren’t good.

“The unfortunate side for these guys is the large volume of shrimp already on the market is driving the price of our Mississippi shrimp way down,” Burris said.

Shrimpers said last year imports were dramatically down because of a disease issue. As a result, local shrimpers received higher prices.

This season, imports are back up and prices are back down.

Chris Cox is among the shrimpers selling their catch right off the boat this year. He would drop his catch at the factory, but prices are simply too low, and imports are at least partly to blame.

“I feel like they drive our prices down,” said Cox. “Because, they’re able to get ‘em so much cheaper.”

This 20-year shrimping veteran says fresh caught gulf shrimp are best, and supporting local fishermen keeps that money circulating locally.

“They’re caught right here at home. The money is staying right here at home. It’s going to places like Miss Linda’s up there and that kind of stuff. Keeps it all local. Try to help the economy,” said Cox.

“This year alone, we’ve seen imports increase 9 percent over last year. In the month of April, imports increased 18 percent over April of last year. So, they’re on their way back up, and we’re seeing declining shrimp prices today,” said Dr. David Veal, who directs the Biloxi-based American Shrimp Processors Association.

Veal’s group supports legislation to create a level playing field.

Much of the imported shrimp comes from countries that grant subsidies to shrimp farmers, creating an unfair advantage when it comes to cost. But, there’s more at stake with the need for federal trade oversight.

“We have a very limited ability to police antibiotics used in other countries or processing technologies that are used or not used. Or sanitation in products. Those things end up on the American shelf, and that’s simply not good for us,” said Veal.

Of all the shrimp consumed in American each year, 92 percent of it is imported product. Of course, residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast enjoy a great advantage. They can buy shrimp directly from the fishermen and know exactly where it came from.

“If you buy retail product, look on that package and see where it’s from. You have a voice in it,” said Veal.

At the dock in Biloxi, shrimp were selling Wednesday for $2 to $5 a pound, depending on the count.

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