HOUMA – It’s an unusual shrimp-season opening, a window of five days during which boats can work specified waters well within Louisiana’s three-mile territorial limits.
But fishermen preparing to drop their nets Monday morning say they are ready for the challenge and hope this mini-season, nearly a month in advance of the state’s traditional May opening, will provide clues to how things will be for the rest of the year.
“My boat’s going out,” said Samantha Sevin of Chauvin. “I am hoping we will convince people the seafood is OK, hoping it will give a little boost to have fresh shrimp.”
Sevin and her husband, O’Neil, operate boats and sell shrimp at retail, both fresh and frozen, from Bait House Seafood, their business on La. 56 just south of the Toussant-Foret Bridge. The BP oil spill proved a disaster for the family, but hopes are high that Monday’s micro season will provide a valuable preview of what is to come.
Smaller boats like their 45-foot Lafitte skiff, Heaven Bound, don’t usually get a chance to test the waters prior to the May season. Over the past decade, bigger boats have plied waters closer to the limits during special pre-season openings.
This opening marks the first time in decades that “inside” state waters will be open this soon, save a short opening after the BP oil spill began to allow shrimpers to harvest what they could before the oil reached their fishing grounds.
Marty Bourgeois, the biologist who runs the shrimp program for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said Saturday that there is evidence of large white shrimp that spent the winter in the inside waters and have not yet moved further into the Gulf of Mexico.
“We want to let fishermen have an opportunity with those overwintering white shrimp,” Bourgeois said. “This will have the added advantage of restoring confidence in the sense that our lakes and bays are free of oil.”
Some Louisiana waters – Bourgeois estimates .08 percent – still have oil, mostly small areas in the Barataria Basin and near the Mississippi River delta.
The micro-season, which will occur nowhere near those areas, was made short so brown shrimp, whose numbers will increase as May draws near, can grow undisturbed until the date set by the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for the traditional season.
The inside area that is open runs from Bayou Grand Caillou west toward Vermilion Bay and below the Houma Navigation Canal.
Bigger boats will be able to work in waters farther out starting Monday, and they will be open until further notice.
Not all fishermen are happy with the opening. Myron Prosperie of Houma said he will not be shrimping this week.
“That area is not where I fish,” he said. “There’s a few guys won’t be going out because to get to it takes too much time and too much fuel.”
Last year’s attempt to beat the oil with an early opening proved frustrating to fishermen, who found themselves being called back to port by closures before they had a chance to earn back their fuel money.
Fuel costs are an issue for this opening as well.
In Dularge, Charles and Becky Lovell will head out in their 43-foot aluminum boat to try their luck, though they recognize the price of fuel makes for a gamble.
“We don’t know how it will be,” Becky Lovell said. “But we need to get out and see what is left. It may help with the consumers because I am sure everybody is still leery about the Louisiana seafood.”
Tests continue on all Louisiana seafood by federal and state agencies. Officials said Friday that all continues well and that Louisiana seafood is likely the most-tested in the world.
George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association, said the state’s willingness to experiment should benefit fishermen. One positive byproduct of the past decade’s hurricanes and even the BP spill, he said, is that the state has been more willing to listen to fishermen’s points of view on how waters should be managed to maximize profit potential. He has worked closely with the state to allow openings east of the Mississippi, and he sees this year’s mini-season as an extension of that logic.
Al Marmande, a processor and dock owner in Dularge, is looking forward to what the mini-season will bring.
“The tide has been working well; there are a lot of shrimp,” Marmande said. “The high tide going out might push some of what’s been here a little further out. But we’re going to find the true story in June and July, the busiest time, when we see if the seafood processors can keep buying it.”
Senior Staff Writer John DeSantis can be reached at 850-1150 or email@example.com.