Jeremy Alford

Shrimp dealers still struggling

by Jeremy Alford

A new study of the state’s shrimp market reveals dockside prices are continuing to drop, causing even more headaches for what has become a troubled sector of Louisiana’s diverse economy. But even with this pricing trend running alongside worries over fuel costs, availability of ice and foreign competition, Louisiana continues to be a national leader in the commercial harvest of shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico.

The socioeconomic study by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is anchored by a series of interviews with 52 Louisiana shrimp dealers. Among its key findings is a steady decrease in the price of dockside shrimp since 2000 – a pattern commercial fishermen have been reporting anecdotally for more than a decade. The national average price in 2000 was $2.20 per pound, almost a hefty sum compared to the $1.25 rate from 2006, the most recent year in the LDWF study. The average regional price, or gulf price, took a similar .75-cent dive during the same time period. Down the bayou, the study found that dockside shrimp prices likewise fell prey during the six-year window, spiraling from $1.65 per pound to a rate of .95 cents.

Dr. Jack Isaacs, LDWF economist and the study’s author, says he undertook the project to gather a better understanding of Louisiana’s market in the face of domestic shrimp prices. "More specifically, we wanted to examine the pivotal role of dockside shrimp dealers in the marketing chain,” he says.

The data is being used to help the department develop wise management recommendations, says Martin Bourgeois, a marine fisheries biologist with the department. “Providing greater economic opportunities for Louisiana shrimpers and businesses within the marketing chain is critical to sustaining economic viability within Louisiana's most valuable commercial fishery,” Bourgeois says.

According to the newly-released report, the Gulf of Mexico accounted for 84 percent, or 289 million pounds, of all U.S. shrimp commercially harvested. The gulf can also take credit for 86 percent, or $343 million, of the nation’s dockside value. Meanwhile, Louisiana led all Gulf States in harvesting, claiming 46 percent, or 135 million pounds, of the water’s bounty. Yet when it comes to dockside value of the Gulf States, Louisiana’s 35 percent share, or $121 million, is second to Texas.