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Shrimpers heading out of Palacios Port working against many odds

By BY ADRIANA ACOSTA
July 17, 2010 at 2:17 a.m.

Craig Wallis, owner of W&W Dock in Palacios, has been shrimping for 35 years. Wallis sent out seven boats this week and is expecting them back in 30 days.

PALACIOS - The port here is quiet.

The waters are calm and only the boats that have returned from white shrimp season are docked, patiently waiting for next year's season.

On Thursday evening, the port was a different scene as the commercial brown shrimp season opened and more than 100 shrimp boats left from the port of Palacios into the Gulf.

"All we do now is wait for the shrimp captains to report back on how they are doing," Craig Wallis, owner of W&W Dock, said Saturday.

Wallis, who has been shrimping for 35 years, is one of many who is hoping for a good shrimping season.

The nine-month brown shrimp season runs through May 15.

Each boat left the port with enough food and supplies to last them 30 to 40 days. Except for these quick trips back, the company's seven boats will be out the entire 200-day season.

Each boat starts off the season with a four-man crew to quickly process each catch, he said.

Each shrimp boat captain has different favorite spots they work in, he said. And each boat has enough cable to work down to 300 feet of water, Wallis added.

Federal waters go out as far as 200 miles, but most of the shrimpers work within 100 miles from shore, he said.

Once the shrimp are caught, the crew places them in bags similar to onion bags, each holding up to 40 pounds. The bags are then placed in a salt brine before being frozen at zero degrees.

"The quicker you get the shrimp out of the deck, the quicker you get them frozen and the better the quality of the shrimp will be," he said. The higher the quality, the more money the shrimp can bring in.

There has been increasing pressure on the Gulf shrimping industry in recent years from imported shrimp, lower prices and higher fuel costs. Because of this, the Palacios shrimp fleet has declined to about 100 boats, he explained.

In years past, he said the shrimping industry had as many as 4,000 boats around the Gulf.

"Many restaurants and supermarkets are buying shrimp from other countries and not local," he said. "It has been tough competition for the domestic market," he said.

Other obstacles such as long winters, climate change and rain have attributed to this decline.

Wallis said that competition from out-of-state shrimpers sailing into the area does not worry him because they come every season.

"Besides, these areas do not belong just to us. The Gulf belongs to everybody," he said.

But aside from the economy and the environment, Wallis said the recent Deepwater Horizon oil spill could have a direct impact on the just-opened season.

"I don't know how bad it is going to affect shrimping, but I know it will," he said.

The oil is making its way into areas where shrimp hatch their eggs, he said. If the oil is sitting on top of the water where the eggs have hatched, they won't survive, Wallis added.

Wallis said he anticipates a good season, but he's waiting to see how much the spill will impact the season.

"You can't put that type of pollutant in the water and say it's not going to affect us," he said.

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