Cold fronts create shrimpy season (w/video)

Sara  Sneath By Sara Sneath

July 10, 2014 at 2:10 a.m.

SEADRIFT - Luis Jaramillo lassoed a post on the Pine Street boat dock and pulled his shrimp boat, Miss Sarita, ashore Thursday.

"No camarones today," Jaramillo, of Victoria, said as a shrimp buyer stepped onto his boat deck.

Jaramillo brought in 175 pounds of brown shrimp Thursday.

"Maybe it can pay for fuel," said Jaramillo, who has been shrimping for 30 years.

After selling his catch and filling his tank with gas, Jaramillo had about $100 to split between his deckhand and himself for six hours of work.

This year's brown shrimp production is below the historical average, according to scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service. Record low temperatures and a continued drought along the Gulf Coast of Texas and western Louisiana have caused the drop in shrimp production, according to a report released by the fisheries service last week.

In addition to catches with fewer shrimp, record low temperatures in winter and spring have caused the brown shrimp to mature slower than usual, said Elizabeth Scott-Denton, a research fishery biologist with the fisheries service.

"In the bay waters, we were seeing like 10 degrees below the 2009 to 2013 average," Scott-Denton said.

With lower temperatures, the metabolism of brown shrimp, known as brownies, slows, and they don't eat as much, so they don't grow as much, said Lance Robinson, upper coast regional director for the coastal fisheries division of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Shrimp are spawned in the Gulf but move into the bay to mature. Once mature, brownies migrate to the Gulf to spawn new shrimp. The delay in shrimp maturation caused by low temperatures also delays their move into the bay.

"The season opened up, and the first couple of weeks, there wasn't anything," said Chris Ingram, who purchases shrimp for PJ Shrimp Co. in Fulton.

Most of the boats in Seadrift that shrimp in the bay also oyster during the winter season. The double harvest allows the fishermen and women a chance to make up for lost profits if one crop has a bad year. But both oyster and shrimp have declined in the bay, leaving fishermen and women without a means to pay for their living.

"It's too slow," said Mario Vallejo, of Seadrift, who has been oystering and shrimping for about 20 years.

Vallejo's 17-year-old son, Mario Vallejo Jr., has served as his deckhand during the summer for the past eight years.

"He takes me to show me how hard it is," Mario said. "You have to get up at 4 a.m. It's hard work."

Vallejo has encouraged his son to get an education. He doesn't want Mario to follow in his tracks.

"It's no good for the money," Vallejo said. "It's too hard."

Though they have fewer to sell, U.S. shrimpers have seen a rise in prices this year because of a smaller import crop, a result of disease-thwarting Asian aquaponic shrimp production. The sustainable movement has also encouraged purchase of wild caught shrimp, Scott-Denton said.

"There's a big marketing push to increase domestic product," she said.

The bay brown shrimp season will end Tuesday, the same day the Gulf brown shrimp season begins. But the delay in the shrimp's migration to the bay is also expected to be seen in their migration to the Gulf.

"When you have these late cold fronts that come through that suppress the water temperature, the shrimp just don't grow as fast. That slowed growth delays their maturation. If they're not maturing as fast as they normally would, that biological urge to go out and spawn is delayed," Robinson said.



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