by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News
Louisiana shrimp has been the deep freeze long before reaching the shrimp boat freezers. Because of an unusually cold winter, the states brown shrimp season began late, leaving shrimpers with less time on the water this year.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission set the opening of the inshore spring shrimp nearly three weeks later than the 2012 season. This following a Louisiana shrimp harvest that was down in January and February compared to historic averages.
“We have faced a few challenges this year,” said Lance Nacio, a third generation fisherman and owner of Dulac’s Anna Marie Seafood. “So far the season has had a fair start at best. The cold weather has definitely set us back and we have not been able to get into some of the traditional fishing areas because of high grass.”
According to Nacio, the harvest is doing better in western state waters. For shrimpers the good news is that prices at the dock have remained high because the bacterial infection known as early mortality syndrome continues to ravage the shrimp stocks of Thailand and China.
Shrimp prices have risen more than 35 percent. In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated the average price boats received for jumbo-sized shrimp in the northern Gulf States was $9.25 per pound, compared to just $4.60 per pound of 2010 and $7.55 in 2013.
Nicky Alfonso, a shrimper from St. Bernard, says the late start has not affected his season. “We are seeing shrimp in areas that we have not seen them in a long time,” he said. “It is going to be a late season however, because what we are seeing right now are … tiny, tiny, tiny. The high prices are definitely helping a lot.”
“I am optimistic that once we are able to get into some of the traditional fishing areas the harvest will improve,” said Nacio.
Catch Improves, Markets Close
As the catch improves, markets for Louisiana shrimp, which has been “red listed” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, continue to close. The damaging listing is due to the state’s refusal to enforce the use of turtle excluder devices (TED) that enable sea turtles, and other bycatch, caught in fishing nets to escape through special openings.
Whole Foods Market, a longtime buyer of Nacio’s shrimp and one of the largest groceries supporting sustainable foods, has ceased to purchase his harvest, or any Louisiana landed shrimp.
“Currently, our red-rating policy prevents Whole Foods Market from purchasing wild-caught shrimp from Louisiana suppliers,” noted David Pilat, global seafood buyer for Whole Foods Market. “We stopped selling all red-rated seafood in 2012 as one major step toward having fully sustainable seafood departments. However, MBA has said that if Louisiana addresses the conservation concern around protecting sea turtles, they will reevaluate their ratings to reflect the change. Should that result in a yellow or green rating for Louisiana shrimp, Whole Foods Market could resume purchasing shrimp from this area.”
According to Pilat, the Louisiana Whole Foods stores continue to offer black drum, red snapper, yellowfin tuna, oysters and crabs from Louisiana, as well as many other seasonal favorites. “We love supporting the fantastic seafood coming out of Louisiana and look forward to continued partnerships with our valued suppliers,” he said.
“The state’s Shrimp Task Force has worked hard to find a solution, even a temporary solution, for the ‘red listing’,” explained Nacio, a fisherman who prides himself on harvesting a sustainable catch. “We have been working to get a one year moratorium on the 1987 state law forbidding the enforcement TED requirements.”
Nacio says that local enforcement is necessary to avoid public pressure from environmental groups such as Monterey Bay “Without us taking any action it only gives environmental non-governmental organizations more ammunition,” he said.
According to Nacio, confusion exists about the states shrimpers’ use of TED’s, however he believes local enforcement is necessary to avoid public pressure from environmental groups such as Monterey Bay. “The state trawler fleet has always been equipped with TED’s, and the skimmer fleet is not required because of limited tow times. However without taking any action, it only gives environmental non-governmental organizations more ammunition,” he said.