Miss. shrimpers say they are no longer welcome

Published 12:08 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shrimp boats tied up along the coast may be a thing of the past in Gulfport.

The Mobile (Ala.) Press-Register is reporting that plans for post-Katrina restoration of the coastline call for bigger ships, deeper channels, yacht basins, marina expansions and casino growth. But shrimpers say they are being left off the list.

Mississippi State Port Authority attorney Ben Stone declined comment through a secretary.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Before the 2005 hurricane, 60 shrimp boats regularly tied up in Gulfport. After Katrina, shrimpers had to anchor at Pass Christian, which is three hours one-way from their fishing ground.

For shrimpers like Jimmie Rowell, who’s been trolling the waters of the Gulfport area for 45 years, the change has been tough. He’s now using a boat half the size of the 60-foot vessels he once captained and is worried about the costly effect of not being able to anchor his boat at Gulfport, where he has a home.

He and other fishermen say towns like Pass Christian haven’t recovered from Katrina, which means selling shrimp straight off their boat at the dock is nearly impossible.

The shrimping industry has been hit hard by historically low prices and lagging demand for sea food as the nation’s economy has foundered. The Alabama Seafood Association estimates that shrimping is a $550 million industry in Mississippi and Alabama.

On a recent day, Johnny Ray Harris and his wife, Karon, plied the Gulf in their 75-foot Harbor Light. Karon Harris said it costs them $2,700 in fuel and ice before they even leave the dock.

A recent sale of jumbo shrimp paid just 80 cents per pound, compared to the more than $4 per pound they’ve gotten in the past.

“For jumbo shrimp!” she grumbled. “I don’t see how fishermen can live off 80 cents a pound.”