LWFC approves opening dates for inshore shrimp

It's May, and the topic of the day and month for the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission is shrimp, namely the spring inshore season.

After hearing reports from Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' biologist Marty Bourgeois, the commission voted to follow the LDWF's recommendations during Thursday's commission meeting in Baton Rouge.

It means shrimpers in the Terrebonne-Caillou bays and Vermilion-Teche zones will get first crack at the get "inside" shrimp to the commercial market. Their spring season is set to open at 6 a.m. May 13.

The Barataria Zone, that runs from the Mississippi River west to Bayou Lafourche at Belle Pass, will have a 6 a.m. May 20 start.

Shrimpers on opposite ends of the state, in the two zones encompassing the Pontchartrain Basin, including waters east of the Mississippi River east to the Louisiana-Mississippi state line, and in the Calcasieu-Mermentau zones, waters east of Vermilion Bay west to the Louisiana-Texas state line, can drop their nets in state waters at 6 a.m. May 27.

Water temperatures, salinity readings, discharges from the state's major rivers, rainfall and tidal movement usually predict the best opening dates, but this year's challenges were different, Bourgeois told the seven commissioners.

Shrimpers have come to call their springtime work the "brown shrimp season," but that's not the case this year. While brown shrimp growth is a factor in setting the spring season, there were other factors that made for three opening dates.

Bourgeois said there's an abundance of overwintering, marketable-sized white shrimp in the Terrebonne-Caillou area that needed to be taken before stronger spring and early summer tides send the shrimp into offshore waters.

The same white shrimp scenario played out in the Vermilion-Teche zone, but the fear of losing the shrimp to the Gulf of Mexico came on the rapidly rising Atchafalaya River. Bourgeois said this slug of freshwater would chase the shrimp from this estuary.

The May 20 opening for Barataria was based on brown shrimp growth rates, but, again, there was market-size white shrimp in the system, too.

The Pontchartrain opener was based on the historical preference for shrimpers there wanting a later opening to give them larger shrimp, while the same-date opening in the Calcasieu-Mermentau zone was based on slow growth of brown shrimp in those waters.

All opening dates are Mondays, and all base-line dates for the six zones were based, in part, on a standard that 50 percent of the shrimp in each zone would be at or larger than 100 to the pound.

Other LWFC action included:

Approving a Notice of Intent for a new traversing regulation for Mississippi offshore fishermen to move through Louisiana waters to reach their home ports. The issue involves the disparity of days between Louisiana's and Mississippi's upcoming recreational red snapper season in federal waters. One of the terms of the new agreement would be that Mississippi anglers returning from offshore waters would not be able to stop in Louisiana water to fish;

Approving the 2013-2015 rules for the resident-game hunting seasons and wildlife management area regulations. These will be forwarded to Legislative oversight committees for review before the commission ratifies the regulations in June;

Approving a resolution to rename the Three Rivers-Red Rivers wildlife management areas complex for the recently deceased and former LDWF biologist Richard Yancey;

Learning that the state's Free Fishing Days have been set for the last two days, June 8-9, of National Fishing week;

Approving Sept. 5 for its meeting date that month;

And, learning that State Enforcement Division agents issued 1,024 citations and 542 written warnings during April. The report also included the report of a boating fatality in St. Tammany Parish. It's the second boating fatality of the year in the state, and the rate is down significantly from the nine boating deaths in the state during the same found months in 2012.