Gulf Shrimpers Could Use a Lift
Still recovering from the aftereffects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Gulf shrimp industry is breathing a sigh of relief almost two-thirds of the way through the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had called for an above-average Atlantic hurricane season, with 12 to 16 named storms, six to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).
Hurricane Ike - the season's ninth named storm, fifth hurricane and third major hurricane - made landfall as a Category 2 storm near Galveston, Texas, on Sept. 13, ravaging the area's small shrimp fleet and its infrastructure. Its predecessor, Hurricane Gustav, also a Category 2 storm, made landfall near Cocodrie, La., on Sept. 1, impairing south-central Louisiana's shrimp fleet.
Both Ike and Gustav could have been much worse. By now, many Gulf shrimpers are back on the water, trying to compensate for this year's lackluster harvest. Through August, the Gulf shrimp catch, which reached just 59 million pounds, was down nearly 20 million pounds from the same eight-month period last year and more than 41 million pounds from 2006.
For many shrimpers, this year's active hurricane season may be a blessing in disguise. Storms can stir up shrimp and the marine nutrients on which the crustacean relies - the so-called "Bubba Gump effect." A similar scenario played out after Katrina in 2005 - 2006's Gulf shrimp catch topped 160 million pounds, up more than 33 million pounds from the 2003-07 five-year average.
However, the Gulf shrimp industry's woes don't lie as much with the resource as they do with high fuel prices, which are forcing many shrimpers to tie up their boats, some permanently. Though it's dropped significantly over the past two months, the average price of diesel on the Gulf Coast, at $3.92 a gallon on Monday, is still up 95 cents from a year ago.
But if fuel prices continue to ease and this year's active hurricane season rejuvenates the resource, the 2009 Gulf shrimp fishery may just be a prosperous one. The struggling industry certainly could use the lift.