BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Georgia's commercial fishing fleet is hoping for a better season this year, and they just might get it.
Following a year many regard as one of the worst shrimp harvests in recent times, those in the seafood industry say the 2014 catch is already looking promising.
Still, some say, Tuesday might be a bit too early to open state waters — from the beach to 3 miles offshore — to commercial trawls, even though it is a little later than the normal May start date.
Frank Owens of City Market, 1508 Gloucester St., said he for one wouldn't mind holding off a little longer.
According to a recent coast-wide trawl survey conducted by biologist Jim Page of the Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Resources Division, white food-sized shrimp abundance in state waters is comparable to historic May averages.
"The majority of the shrimp are large enough to be desirable to recreational harvesters and valuable to commercial fishermen," Page said.
While that threshold is usually reached in May, Page said cooler than normal water temperatures likely caused a slight delay in the spawning period of the tasty crustacean.
From what Owens has seen coming off the boats at his dock from federally managed waters, the spawn this year has been strong, a good sign considering the state of last year's shrimp season in state waters.
"Last year was about as bad as I've seen, and this year it's been pretty good so far," Owens said.
To make the rest of the season even better for the big white shrimp that sell best, Owens said holding off on opening state managed waters until July would allow the shrimp more time to grow.
"If they kept it closed and let them grow a little more the shrimp would be worth more," Owens said.
Regardless of when the state waters open, he said prices should remain high for plump, wild Georgia shrimp, especially since farm raised shrimp from places like Thailand and Ecuador remain in short supply due to disease and other problems.
It was a combination of black gill disease, which does not affect humans but kills shrimp, and an influx of fresh water from rain that biologists believe contributed to the poor shrimp season in Georgia waters in 2013.
Owens is hopeful those problems will be minimal this year and give the shrimp fishermen a chance to have a good season when prices are right.
Owens said large shrimp are currently going for around $6 to $8 a pound at the docks.
Information from: The Brunswick News, http://www.thebrunswicknews.com