BRUNSWICK, Ga. - The commercial shrimping season will open at 7 a.m. today in Georgia and South Carolina territorial waters.
The action allows trawlers to work inside each state's 3-mile limit. It also opens the commercial and recreational shrimping season for cast nets and beach seines.
State biologists in Georgia and South Carolina have been monitoring the shrimp population since January and recommended the joint opening.
In northeast Florida, both the commercial and recreational shrimping season will open at midnight June 1, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation officers said.
Michael Sullivan, president of the 120-member Georgia Shrimpers Association, predicts the season will be one of the best in recent years.
"I'm very optimistic that it's going to be an excellent year, both in quantity of shrimp and in the price," Mr. Sullivan said.
Northeast Florida shrimpers are uncertain what kind of season it will be but are hoping for the best.
"It's really too early to tell what kind of a shrimping season we're going to have this year," said Janie Thomas, a Fernandina Beach shrimper and vice president of the Organized Fishermen of Florida.
Organized Fishermen of Florida has about 1,000 members statewide, including shrimpers, crabbers and lobster harvesters.
Approximately a third of its members are shrimpers, including many who work out of northeast Florida's major ports: Jacksonville and Fernandina Beach.
Mr. Sullivan, of Savannah, said there has been "a tremendous amount" of spawning activity in the estuaries - indicating the potential for a plentiful shrimp population. In addition, the price paid to shrimpers for their catch "has been good and strong," he said.
He also said "well above average" harvests have been reported so far this month by shrimpers trawling in federal waters off both the northern Georgia and South Carolina coasts.
But shrimpers working federal waters offshore of southeast Georgia have had less success, Mr. Sullivan said.
"In the southern half of the state, either they haven't caught the shrimp or they just don't have shrimp. We don't know what's going on," he said.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials attributed the problems to the drought. Rainfall affects the salinity of the water, triggering the shrimp migration offshore to the Atlantic Ocean.
Jim Music, DNR commercial fisheries program leader, said the agency's research shows a below-average abundance of shrimp since January, but the ones found were larger than normal.
Mr. Music offered a cautious outlook about potential for the 2000 season.
"We expect a below-average roe shrimp harvest, very much like last year due to the continued drought," Mr. Music said.
"It's much too early to predict the summer brown shrimp harvest because those shrimp are still inhabiting areas well upstream of our normal sampling areas," he said.
Two species of shrimp - white and brown - are most prevalent in Georgia and northeast Florida territorial waters.
White shrimp, which mainly are a fall and winter catch, make up about 80 percent of the state's commercial harvest. The remainder are brown shrimp harvested in the spring and summer.
Last year, 3.4 million pounds of white shrimp - 12.5 percent below the state's 10-year average - were caught in Georgia waters, DNR statistics show.
The Georgia brown shrimp harvest totaled 836,000 pounds last year, which was 16.8 percent above the 10-year average, the statistics also showed.
Northeast Florida harvest statistics were not available.
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