This year’s white shrimp harvest in the waters off Louisiana’s southeastern coast is significantly lower than in the past, forcing some people in the industry to look elsewhere for product and scale back operations while others blame the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
“I am talking to the guys, I am talking to the docks, and they are telling me that they are 80 percent off,” said Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. “We should have had a good year this year.”
Carol Terrebonne, who runs the Seafood Shed, a seafood wholesaler in Golden Meadow, agreed.
“Usually at this time of the year, we are loading trailer loads,” Terrebonne said. “It’s just not happening.”
The white shrimp season opened Aug. 22, said Marty Bourgeois, a biologist with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The white shrimp season usually lasts until December or early January and is the longer of the state’s two shrimp seasons with the spring season focused on brown shrimp, Bourgeois said.
The brown shrimp season began in May.
The opening and closing of the season is based on sampling data about when harvestable shrimp will be in state waters, said Olivia Watkins, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
This year, Wildlife and Fisheries scientists took samples and made a recommendation about the season’s opening, which was approved by the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, Watkins said.
The lack of shrimp around Grand Isle has forced some shrimpers to sail west toward Dulac and Delcambre, said Dean Blanchard, owner of a shrimp dock in Grand Isle.
“Our Grand Isle beach is producing less than one percent of the shrimp it normally produces,” he said.
Many fishermen are blaming the lack of shrimp on the oil leak, said Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimp Association.
“I think you will find the parishes that were most affected by oil are down (in terms of shrimp),” Guidry said. “We are just seeing something (a lower number of shrimp), and what we see on the beaches is a minute fraction of what went on in the Gulf. I don’t think we will ever know what it (the oil) killed.”
Guidry cited a study published Sept. 26 by LSU researchers Fernando Galvez and Andrew Whitehead. The study found that exposure to oil causes changes in fish genes that could have implications for future fish populations.
“You look at this fish study, you put the pieces of the puzzle together,” Guidry said.
State officials cautioned that data about the white shrimp harvest have not been fully collected, much less analyzed.
“We are not at a stage where we are going to have any concrete data (on the catch),” said Watkins of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “Without that, it’s too difficult for us to speculate.”
Official numbers are not usually ready until six to eight weeks after the end of a month due to the large number of trip tickets that must be tabulated, Watkins said. The trip tickets are usually submitted on a monthly basis.
The low harvest is impacting businesses farther inland, too, such as Doran Seafood, a shrimp processing plant in Independence.
“We have done zero this year,” said Randy Pearce, the plant’s owner-operator. “We have not peeled one Louisiana white shrimp.”
Pearce recently pointed to an empty live shrimp storage room, saying that at this point in the season, it should be full.
In another room of the plant, four large shrimp-peeling machines sat idle. Those machines should be running two shifts per day, Pearce said.
The plant has already reduced the number of days that employees are working from five or six days per week to three, Pearce said.
Pearce has reduced the number of employees from 50 to 25, he said. Further reductions at the plant are likely if the season’s harvest doesn’t pick up, he said.
Pearce has been able to keep the facility operating at a minimal level, buying shrimp from other states, such as the Carolinas and Georgia, he said.
“We have the additional costs of bringing it in,” Pearce said.
Also, Pearce said, several processors are competing for the same shrimp, so the supply is unreliable.
The lack of harvest hasn’t affected the price of shrimp in the market yet, said Doran Seafood’s Jeff Schwab.
Stores are able to compensate by using imported shrimp, he said.
Guidry said he has discussed his concerns with state officials “but we are still waiting on the Wildlife and Fisheries numbers.”