Miss. shrimper heads north in new sales approach

Published 11:44 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tired of seeing his profits wash away, Tim Harrison is taking a different approach to selling shrimp by running his boat north to new markets far from the Gulf.

In May, the Pass Christian shrimper and his crew will take the Bella Mia, a 62-foot double-rigger, on a long marketing trip to inland Mississippi.

They will start in Pass Christian, head to Mobile Bay, go up the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway through Alabama and dock in Columbus, Miss. A coast seafood supplier will deliver shrimp to Columbus and Harrison will sell the catch off his boat.

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“So the entire trip is going to be promoting Gulf fresh shrimp,” said Harrison. “So as we pass, this boat’s going to bring a lot of attention to places where people have never seen a shrimp boat. They’ll understand that there’s a market down here of fresh shrimp, and they can come and visit annually.”

The trip means that, for this year, Harrison’s giving up on the opening of the upcoming shrimp season.

“Fix your boat, refuel it not long ago at $4.50 a gallon, and you’re burning 12 gallons an hour,” Harrison told Biloxi television station WLOX. “And then you have imported shrimp being dumped at very low prices.You can’t make a living.”

Harrison said his boat will be docked at the foot of Main Street in downtown Columbus. Harrison and his crew plan to stay there for about three months. Their goal is to sell 50,000 pounds of shrimp in 90 days.

“That 50,000 pounds is guaranteed to come off of these docks in Mississippi. So we’re directly helping, and they’re going to be getting a fair price for their shrimp. This is about survival,” said Harrison.

The Bella Mia could serve as more than just a floating seafood market. Harrison hopes the vessel will become an annual tourist attraction, to help raise awareness about the plight of shrimpers on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“We have a list of phone numbers of Gulf shrimpers, and we’re going to distribute this in the area of Columbus,” said Harrison. “The whole idea is for opening season, for these people to come down and buy and prearrange orders. So they can come buy directly off the boat, prearranged.”

The trip to Columbus will take about eight days by boat. Harrison says the reason he chose to go to Columbus is because of its population, and the region is struggling with another import — catfish.