Seafood Harvesting and Processing
In addition to being the cultural and historical foundation for many coastal communities, the Mississippi seafood industry is a major contributor to the regional economy.
The Mississippi seafood industry has an annual economic impact of over $377 million and provides employment for over 8,500 people. Major species produced are shrimp, crabs, oysters, and finfish.
Pascagoula/Moss Point and Gulfport/Biloxi are among the leading seafood ports in the nation. Landings from state waters are not sufficient to sustain a viable seafood processing industry. As a consequence, Mississippi seafood processors handle landings of fishery products from other states and import substantial quantities from foreign countries to sustain plant capacity.
The rapid growth in imports of pond-raised shrimp from China and southeast Asia, as well as expansion in Mexico and in other Central and South American countries, has dramatically changed the price structure and stability of the Gulf shrimp industry. Increasing effort in local fisheries has led to a decrease in catch per unit of effort and economic return to the fishermen has declined. Economic overcapitalization is characteristic of many coast fisheries, particularly the shrimp and crab harvest. Decreased raw product has led to diminished processing capacity in many sectors of the seafood industry. Much of the seafood processed in Mississippi is landed in other Gulf states, and many processors import foreign products to meet demand. Almost 60 percent of the seafood products consumed in the United States (90 percent of the shrimp in particular) is imported, resulting in a trade deficit exceeding $6.5 billion. Importation of foreign products from capture fisheries may alleviate the shortfall temporarily, however, increased fishing pressure on finite natural resources will ultimately reduce availability.
In the shrimp fishery, most of the fishing power Gulf-wide is generated by Vietnamese owned and operated vessels. Of seafood harvesting licenses issued in Mississippi for vessels greater than 45 feet in length, 62 percent are owned by people with Asian surnames. Because most of these vessels are quad-rigged (they pull four nets simultaneously), regulations regarding gear requirements such as larger turtle excluder devices (TEDs) and bycatch reduction devices tend to fall disproportionately on this segment of the fishery. New regulations regarding turtle excluder device (TED) use in the shrimp fishery restricts fishermen from using certain types of devices in certain areas. In addition, Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Regulations regarding stability instructions and watertight integrity are more stringent for larger vessels.
The seafood processing industry, particularly the crab and oyster processing sectors, is extremely labor intensive and requires large numbers of people on an irregularly scheduled basis. A large number of seafood processing plants in Mississippi are now primarily staffed by Asian people; Vietnamese are the largest percentage of the work force followed by Laotians and Cambodians. In most instances, they have adapted quite well to working in the seafood industry. However, many of them do not speak or understand English well which poses a communication problem, particularly in respect to compliance with required sanitation procedures.
The recreational fishing industry, in particular, has a significant economic impact on the coastal economy in Mississippi. Over 26 percent of the anglers fishing in Mississippi come from out-of-state. The influx of outside money spent on bait, fuel, tackle, food, and lodging represents new money in the economy, as opposed to merely a redistribution of disposable income from coastal residents. The growth in recreational fishing participation is expected to increase by 18.5 percent by the year 2025. Recent surveys show that Mississippi anglers annually spend over $50 million on food and beverages, over $9 million on lodging, over $19 million on bait and ice, over $15 million on boat fuel, and over $57 million on fishing tackle. About 10 percent of the $236 million spent annually by Mississippi anglers is spent in the three coastal counties. The recreational fishery also receives federal funds in the form of sport fish restoration apportionments (which are generated by taxes on fishing-related purchases). These monies are used to build access infrastructure such as boat ramps and fishing piers, develop artificial reefs, and conduct boating safety programs. Over 60,000 recreational saltwater fishing licenses are sold annually in Mississippi.
As an increasing numbers of users compete for finite fishery resources, many fish stocks are at or over their limits of exploitation. Depletion of shallow-water fishery resources and increased regulation of these fisheries have generated interest in new fishery resources, enhancement of depleted stocks, creation of habitat to increase production, and aquaculture. Fisheries for many species in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit wide annual population fluctuations. While a variety of factors have been identified as contributing to variations in population abundance (quantity and quality of habitat, fishing pressure, environmental parameters, pollution) there is little specific data on the relative importance of these factors to individual species population dynamics.
The domestic fishery can no longer supply additional landings of most wild-catch species without endangering the resources. Increases in demand will have to be met either through increased aquaculture production or increased imports. Many species are currently being over-exploited world-wide, causing further need to look elsewhere for fishery products to meet the ever-increasing global demand. Seafood consumption has been steadily growing in the U.S. since 1974, stabilizing at about 15 lb. per person. Even if consumption remained unchanged, U.S. population growth alone would add forty million pounds to the demand for seafood each year. Shortfalls in domestic wild harvests of fish and shellfish also draw in imports to fill demand. More than 60 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported. Economic benefits from aquaculture production accrue not only to those directly involved in the industry but contribute to increased employment and revenue of the entire region. Recent analyses suggest output, income, and employment in the Mississippi catfish industry are multiplied two to two and one-half times in the local economy. Aquaculture can also supplement domestic fisheries, increase seafood production and provide stability for the seafood industry. A successful approach to many of these current domestic fishery problems is through the development of an extensive aquaculture program in the United States.
Coastal aquaculture frequently involves new species, product forms, or production technologies. Because research and development efforts have been focused on production, little attention has been paid to linking aquaculture with existing support services or to developing needed infrastructure. Essential seafood services such as processing, storage, transportation, financing, insurance, and personnel training already exist in the coastal region. A key constraint to development is the lack of linkage between aquaculture and existing seafood industries. There is renewed interest in aquaculture and offshore cage culture to supplement to domestic fisheries products. Expansion of these activities would increase product availability and provide economic opportunities in the seafood industry. Stock and habitat enhancement research may also provide a means to maintain or increase fisheries production. For recruitment-limited species with adequate habitat, stock enhancement may aid in stock recovery and fishery stability.
Offshore mariculture operations in the Gulf of Mexico so far have not been able to meet the three key criteria for sustainable development:
- long-term productivity leading to stable markets;
- profitability for owners and investors; and
- environmental “friendliness”.
However, new technologies as well as increasing regulation of shore-based operations may lead to the development of an offshore industry within the next decade. These operations may be similar in design and scale to the salmon cage culture operations which already exist in other regions of the United States.
RAYMOND, Miss. -- For Mississippi’s commercial fishermen, stress is part of daily life, but the typical stressors they face have been intensifying for more than 10 years.