History of the Federal Fishery – TX Shrimp

Federal Shrimp Fishery

Shrimping has been part of the Gulf of Mexico culture for several hundred years. Prior to the early 1900s, the predominant gear type for commercial shrimp harvest in shallow water was haul seines. Up until the middle of the 20th century, white shrimp was the primary species targeted. With the introduction of the otter trawl into the fishery in 1915, vessels began fishing further offshore. By the 1930s,  otter trawls were in widespread use and, by the 1950s, increased catches began to cause concern regarding overexploitation. However, around this time, brown shrimp fishing grounds were discovered and fishing effort became less concentrated as boats moved further offshore to pursue browns (Condrey and Fuller 1992 as cited in Hart and Nance 2013). Double rig trawling was also introduced in the 1950s in which two small trawls were pulled behind the boat instead of a single large net. This led to increased catch efficiency (GMFMC shrimp FMP). By 1970, close to 230 million pounds of shrimp were being landed in the Gulf of Mexico worth $110 million (NOAA OST – Commercial Landings).

In 1976, Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which is now the primary law governing fishery management in the U.S. MSA established eight regional management councils, including GMFMC, with the responsibility of developing fishery management plans (FMP) to comply with 10 national standards designed to promote sustainable fisheries management (MSA). GMFMC and NOAA Fisheries manage the shrimp fishery from the boundary of state waters out to 200 nautical miles (nm), also called the EEZ. GMFMC published the first Shrimp FMP in 1981, which included brown shrimp, white shrimp, pink shrimp (Penaeus duorarum),  royal red shrimp (Pleoticus robustus), seabobs (Xiphopeneus kroyeri) and rock shrimp (Sicyonia brevirostris) in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the 1980s, skimmer trawls were introduced into the fishery. Developed mainly in the Barataria area of Louisiana, these nets were meant to be pushed by the boat instead of pulled, and were developed to target white shrimp in shallower water (Hein and Meier 1995). Also in the 1980s, focus on the Gulf shrimp fishery became centered around bycatch, especially sea turtle bycatch. By 1978, all sea turtles found in the northern Gulf had been placed on the endangered species list as either threatened or endangered (NOAA –SEFSC), and NRC (1990) determined that shrimp trawl bycatch was one of the most significant sources of mortality causing declines in sea turtle populations. Research on turtle excluder devices (TEDs) began in the late 1970s, and in 1981, a voluntary program was initiated to encourage fishermen to utilize TEDs in shrimp trawls. In 1987, NOAA Fisheries published final regulations for implementing mandatory use of TEDs in the U.S. shrimp industry, and by 1989, federal regulations were in effect (SEFSC – History of TEDs).

Imports began to compete with the Gulf shrimp fishery in the 1980s (GMFMC Shrimp FMP –Amendment 13). Shrimp imports have escalated drastically since then, and the U.S. now imports approximately 90% of the shrimp consumed in the country. Increasing fuel costs also became a hindrance to the fishery, as well as several natural disasters that struck in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In an attempt to make the fishery more economically sustainable, Amendment 13 to the Shrimp FMP created a 10 year license moratorium in federal waters. License numbers for federal shrimp permits were 1, 933 in 2007, and have decreased since then to 1, 470.


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