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Mississippi's shrimpers dodge hurricane damage
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's shrimping industry dodged the worst of Hurricane Ivan, but other parts of the Gulf of Mexico were not as fortunate.
Hurricane Ivan in September made an indirect hit on the Mississippi Gulf Coast while hitting Alabama and Florida. Three others hit Florida this season.
Dave Burrage, Extension fisheries specialist at Mississippi State University's Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said Mississippi fishermen weren't affected by Ivan nearly as much as those farther east.
"The hurricanes had an industry-wide effect, but it hasn't been felt much here other than lost fishing days spent in port or running from the weather," Burrage said.
Biloxi and Bayou La Batre, the large fishing ports in Mississippi and Alabama, were not significantly damaged because they were on the "good side" of Ivan, or the less fierce western edge.
"The real problems were in all the fishing towns along the Florida Panhandle," Burrage said.
Docks were destroyed and suppliers didn't have electricity to produce ice, but Burrage said the large Gulf boats could still off-load to trucks. Wind is usually not a problem for shrimp or oysters, but too much rain can be.
"Rainfall inland washes down the rivers and brings a lot of logs and debris into the fishing grounds. It ends up in the nets and causes fishermen all kinds of problems," Burrage said.
Too much rain also dilutes the saltwater concentration, driving creatures into deeper, saltier water and killing oysters, which can't move from their reefs. Although some debris washed into the Gulf, Mississippi was spared the heavy rain and oyster season should open as planned in mid-October.
"Most of the production now is white shrimp in relatively shallow water. Normally a hurricane would have brought too much rain and moved them out, but that wasn't the case this year," Burrage said. "The storms did scatter the shrimp around a bit."
Sandra Bosarge, who owns Bosarge Boats Inc. in Pascagoula, said shrimp production is down this year because of the tropical storms. Bosarge Boats has three large Gulf boats that shrimp the waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean year-round.
"We've been driven in by each of the hurricanes. Even though they did not hit us, we still had the downtime," Bosarge said. "None of our boats have caught anything since they've gone back out since this last hurricane."
She said Bosarge Boats stay out 20 to 30 days before returning to port and landing their shrimp. They typically make the lengthy trip around the Florida Keys to harvest rock shrimp.
"All three of our boats have the highly coveted rock shrimp endorsements. That is a very special permit to catch rock shrimp on the East Coast in the Exclusive Economic Zone," Bosarge said. "They had a very high rock shrimp production over there, but the storms are continually driving our boats in, so we aren't able to go this year."