BRUNSWICK — Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams recently announced that Georgia’s food shrimp harvest season will extend beyond Dec. 31. The extension may continue through Feb. 29 if biological and environmental conditions remain stable.
Monthly research surveys will continue to be conducted to monitor conditions and adjust the closing date as needed. Trawlers may continue to harvest shrimp in the Atlantic Ocean eastward of the sound-beach boundary. Individuals who use a cast net or a beach seine also may continue to harvest food shrimp.
Jim Page, marine biologist with the Coastal Resources Division, explained the reason for the extension.
“December scientific surveys indicated shrimp abundance along the coast is within normal levels compared to long-term averages,” he said. “Shrimp size remains somewhat mixed, but overall marketable-grade shrimp are being located throughout coastal waters. These factors, along with current stable environmental conditions and ongoing consumer demand for fresh, domestic shrimp, led to the recommendation to extend the food shrimp harvest season.”
The department has extended the food shrimp season every year since 1978 except for 1983, 1989 and 2000, when severely cold weather in November or December caused water temperatures to drop to lethal levels for white shrimp. Conditions thus far in 2011 have been favorable for survival of over-wintering white shrimp. Water temperatures and salinities of Georgia’s estuaries are within normal ranges when compared to long-term averages.
The decision to extend the food shrimp season was made in consultation with members of the Shrimp Advisory Panel and can be altered if emergency circumstances warrant.
The number of working trawlers rose slightly in 2011, though license sales remain down nearly 50 percent from the 1979-2010 average of 593.
Numbers in the commercial cast net fishery are in decline as well, with only 24 percent of the allowable 200 licenses sold this season.
Both groups of commercial shrimp fishers are struggling to make a profit, and the extension will allow them to continue fishing, if they choose.
“A host of factors are considered before a recommendation is made to extend food shrimp season,” Page said. “Ultimately, we have to balance the protection of over-wintering shrimp with the desires of fishers to have additional time added to the season. Given current shrimp abundance and size, coast-wide, we believe an extension will provide fishers additional opportunities without negatively impacting the over-wintering shrimp population.
“However, should current environmental conditions or biological status change, waters may be closed prior to Feb. 29, 2012.”
For more information, call the Coastal Resources Division office at 912-264-7218.