The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Coastal Fisheries division has decided to close the Gulf of Mexico commercial shrimp season in state waters starting 30 minutes after sunset on May 15.
Shrimp lovers have no need to worry: Just because the season is closing doesn’t mean a scarcity of Gulf shrimp. It does mean that at least some trawlers from the Brownsville-Port Isabel fleet will have to steam toward Louisiana waters if they want to fill their nets.
At the same time TPWD announced the closure of state waters to nine nautical miles off the coast, the National Marine Fisheries announced that federal waters will be closed to 200 nautical miles off the coast.
May 15 was chosen based partly on catch rates and shrimp size determined by samples taken during April, according to TPWD. Closing the shrimp season once a year is meant to protect shrimp populations and also ensure larger, more valuable shrimp for the industry to harvest.
Although shrimp lay their eggs offshore, the larvae swim into bays and estuaries to mature. They typically migrate to the Gulf as adults once they’ve reached about 3 1/2 inches.
“This is a conservation practice to make sure we can continue to enjoy our shrimp cocktails,” TPWD spokesman Mike Cox said.
The season will reopen sometime in July, depending on data collected from shrimp sampling during June, TPWD said. By law, the season can’t be closed more than 60 days. Peak shrimping is May through September.
As with last season, shrimp growth rates are slower than normal, due to a relatively cool spring and higher salinity in the water because of less freshwater runoff into the bay systems — in turn due to the drought, Cox said.
Morgan Gross of Harrington Seafood in Brownsville said Texas shrimpers who intend to keep shrimping this season will head to Louisiana waters. He added that he’ll have plenty of shrimp as usual, though prices will be higher than normal.
“This year is probably the highest prices have been in 30 or 35 years,” Gross said.
The spike is mostly attributable to Early Mortality Syndrome, a shrimp disease that has devastated commercial shrimp ponds in Asia and Mexico, resulting in a worldwide shrimp shortage.
“I think they’ll do good,” Gross said of area shrimpers. “I think they’re going to have a real, real good season.”
Lee Caddell, a local shrimp buyer for Illinois-based Penguin Frozen Foods Inc., described current prices in a word: unreal.
And while high prices aren’t really good news for anybody but the shrimper, Caddell is philosophical in light of the economic beating that Gulf shrimpers have taken over recent decades thanks to cheap foreign imports and rising fuel prices.
“For their sake, I hope it keeps on going for them for a while,” he said.