As season closes, Texas shrimp industry battles hostile trends

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Coastal Fisheries Division decided May 15 was a good time to close the state’s shrimp season because, according to its sampling, the average size and number of brown shrimp in Texas coastal waters is higher than the 20-year average.

Texas closes its waters to shrimping from the coast to nine nautical miles out for roughly two months each year to give little shrimp time to grow before being harvested. The National Marine Fisheries Service typically imposes a closure out to 200 nautical miles at the same time.

More, bigger shrimp is potentially good news for the state’s struggling shrimp industry, since big shrimp fetch higher prices, according to Andrea Hance, shrimp fleet owner and executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association.

Despite profitable years in 2012 and 2013, due largely to foreign shrimp operations being ravaged by Early Mortality Syndrome, Texas shrimpers are making little, if any, profit these days because of low prices per pound, she said.

Even during the two years when prices were high, most of revenues went to the IRS or into boats suffering from years of deferred maintenance, Hance said. Now foreign imports are once again flooding the market and Gulf shrimpers aren’t making any money.

“Most of us this year probably will not make a profit, especially if you have to make boat repairs,” she said.

When Texas closes its season, some trawlers from the Brownsville-Port Isabel fleet head home and others steam off to Louisiana, Mississippi and even Florida waters, Hance said. Those states allow shrimping year round, with the result that Texas waters produce the largest shrimp, she said.

It’s the big shrimp — 16/20 count, which means 16-20 shrimp per pound — in which Texas is the most competitive, and much less so in the 20/25 count market, where farm-raised imports dominate, Hance said.

“The large shrimp are the only thing keeping us in business,” she said. “Last year we didn’t have enough large shrimp. We need a lot of the large shrimp.”

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