BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Georgia's commercial and recreational shrimping season came to an end Friday, requiring people along the coast to hang up their nets.
Authorities from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are closing coastal waters for the remainder of the winter because of the dwindling population of harvest-size shrimp available. In addition, department scientists want to protect the remaining shrimp for spawning.
Commissioner Lonice Barrett said the closure, which ends a three-week extension of the season, will affect all food shrimping activities in Georgia's territorial waters, which extend 3 miles offshore.
That includes commercial shrimp trawling along the beaches and commercial and recreational food shrimping by people using cast nets and beach seines, Mr. Barrett said.
Low dockside market prices because of foreign shrimp imports, plus high operating costs, added up to a dismal season, several longtime southeast Georgia shrimpers said.
"It's been a decent season, catch-wise. But the prices are the worst that they've been in 40 years," said Steve DeLoach, of Brunswick, who has been a commercial shrimper for about 30 years. "It's so bad that a lot of guys are lucky just to be able to pay the fuel bill."
Prices often soar after the shrimpers hand off their catches to markets.
Georgia shrimpers and their counterparts in seven other seafood-producing states have formed an alliance to lobby the federal government to impose strict regulations or taxes on imported farm-raised shrimp.
The Southern Shrimp Alliance has said $2.4 billion worth of shrimp was illegally dumped on the American market in 2001 and 2002 by Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Thailand and Vietnam.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that foreign shrimp imports in 2002 "contributed importantly to declines in domestic shrimp prices when compared with the previous five years."
As a result, the USDA in October deemed that Georgia shrimpers were eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance in the form of cash benefits and technical assistance.
Shrimpers have until Feb. 9 to apply for the assistance through the Farm Service Agency.