Freshwater inundation ruins shrimp season

Don’t expect much fresh shrimp from Louisiana anytime soon.

Fresh water has inundated the Louisiana coast this year all the way from the Atchafalaya River to the western shores of Vermilion Bay, said Rodney Olander, chairman of the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force.

Olander, who lives in Garden City, said he’s been in the shrimping business for 40 years and has never seen a season this bad. His family owns a shrimp dock at Cypremort Point located on Vermilion Bay in St. Mary Parish

For the first time in over 48 years, three weeks into the spring brown shrimp season the dock hasn’t purchased any shrimp caught in the bay, Olander said.

“That’s how bad it is,” Olander said.

At last week’s shrimp task force meeting, officials voted to join with the oyster and crab task forces to declare that all fisheries in Louisiana be declared a disaster, because numbers are down across the board in the state’s seafood industry.

Each of the last five years has gotten worse with lots of rainfall in the area. The fall 2018 season was the worst fall season Olander had ever experienced.

“I’m thinking there’s no way it can get any worse. Well, this year is by far the absolute worst ever,” Olander said.

Olander isn’t even attempting to catch shrimp in St. Mary Parish because of how poor a season it’s been. He’s instead trolling in Cocodrie in Terrebonne Parish where the catch is down, too.

Seafood industry officials are working to try to get relief to the people whose livelihood depends on the industry. Olander is fairly confident workers in the industry will eventually get help through a federal disaster declaration, but he and others are pushing to get some financial assistance to fishermen more quickly.

“It wouldn’t have to be a lot, just something to help the fishermen along to help pay their bills until the disaster funds become available, if they still do become available,” Olander said.

Though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has indefinitely delayed opening the Morganza Spillway, the spring shrimp season is already a disaster even if more water isn’t sent to the Atchafalaya Basin.

State officials don’t know yet the full effect that the inundation of freshwater may have on the fall shrimp season. Small white shrimp usually start moving into inland water in late June or early July. Once those shrimp reach a certain size, the fall season begins.

“This year, with the amount of fresh water, we don’t have any shrimp. So it’s looking we won’t even have a fall season, either,” Olander said.

It’s probable that the effects of high water this year could spill over into the 2020 shrimp seasons. During the 1973 flood, the effects lingered for several years before the shrimp harvest returned to normal, Olander said.

“We’re hoping we don’t have a repeat of that, but the thing is, nobody really knows,” he said.

On top of that, what’s referred to as freshwater is actually polluted freshwater with farmland runoff, industrial plants and sewer systems contributing to the flow, Olander said.

Olander also expects a record hypoxic zone, commonly known as a dead zone, which is an area where there’s not enough oxygen to sustain life.

On Monday, Nancy Rabalais and Gene Turner of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium released their prediction for the summer 2019 hypoxic zone. The June forecast of the size of the hypoxic zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico for late July is that it will cover 8,717 square-miles of the bottom of the continental shelf off Louisiana and Texas.

The predicted hypoxic area is about the size of the land area of New Hampshire and 67% larger than the average, researchers said.

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