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SHRIMPING INDUSTRY. Shrimping is the most important commercial fishing industry in Texas. It produced 70.7 million pounds of shrimp in 1982, with an estimated value of $143.5 million. Since the 1950s Texas has consistently ranked among the top three producers of shrimp, along with Alaska and Louisiana. In addition, the volume of shrimp in 1982 established Texas as the fifth most important producer of all fish products in the United States, directly behind Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Massachusetts. Economists estimate that each dollar from the shrimping industry represents in turn three additional dollars in the local economy. With this multiplier effect, the Texas shrimping industry generated approximately $574 million in 1982 in coastal communities from Port Arthur to Port Isabel. Texas shrimping occurs in the Gulf of Mexico and the bays. The gulf fishery is by far the more important, although the commercial bay fishery is responsible for approximately 18 percent of the total annual catch. Texas Gulf shrimping was begun primarily by Louisiana shrimpers who, in search of better fishing grounds, moved their base of operations to Texas coastal communities immediately after World War II. Texas bay shrimpers, on the other hand, are a historic part of many Texas communities. In Port Isabel, for instance, shrimping, along with the commercial netting of other species of fish, including trout, redfish, flounder, and drum, can be traced back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century. Gulf shrimping is accomplished from wooden or steel-hulled trawlers measuring, most commonly, from fifty to eighty feet long. The crew of a shrimper, composed of captain, rigger, and header, employs nets either of thirty-six or forty-five feet in length. In the twin-trawl rig, the rig most commonly used, four nets are dragged along the sea bottom. Wooden "doors" keep the mouths of the nets open as the tickler chains at the bottoms of the nets stir up the shrimp and drive them in.
Texas shrimpers typically fish for up to three weeks in the Gulf before returning to port. Shrimpers must fish at night, since the brown or Brazilian shrimp (Penaeus aztecus) is nocturnal. The work itself is arduous and, at times, dangerous. The header's major responsibility is to sit on a small stool on the rear workdeck and remove the heads from the thousands of shrimp that are netted. The rigger cleans and repairs the nets and helps the header. The captain is the backbone of the Texas shrimping industry; his job is to find and net the shrimp and return them and his men safely to port. A Texas shrimp captain is an experienced fisherman and pilot who is entrusted by a trawler owner with fishing equipment that may be worth more than $300,000. The Gulf crews are primarily composed of Caucasians, Mexican Americans, and undocumented Mexican workers; blacks, Cajuns, and Central Americans represent most of the remainder of the workforce. The median income of Gulf trawler captains in 1979 was $22,400, while riggers received $13,200 and headers $6,400. Bay shrimpers work daily from the early morning hours until noon, when they return to port. Bay boats are considerably smaller than Gulf shrimpboats, ranging in size from eighteen to forty feet. Typically they are manned by two men, less often by only one. Bay shrimpers are predominantly Caucasian, although in recent years Vietnamese have entered the bay fishery. Since overhead is minimal compared to that of Gulf trawlers, bay shrimpers need net far fewer shrimp to make a profit. Annual incomes of bay captains in 1979 ranged from $15,000 to $25,000. Owners of Texas Gulf trawlers vary considerably in both their methods of doing business and their scale of operations. Many have shrimped for a living before owning their own boats, thus they know how to take an active part in the daily maintenance and operation of their businesses. Others, often the second generation of trawler owners, hire dockside managers to handle the myriad tasks of outfitting and operating shrimpboats. In either case, owners spend long hours running their fleets, which typically comprise from two to eight boats, although there is one Texas fleet of more than sixty trawlers. The political interests of Texas shrimpboat owners are represented by the Texas Shrimpers Association.
Since 1979 the Texas shrimping industry has been beset by a number of economic problems, including the prohibition of fishing in Mexican waters, rising fuel costs, an increase in the number of trawlers, concerns over the accidental killing of sea turtles, and overcapitalization. Texas shrimping, however, remains a viable industry. Consumer demand for shrimp remains high, and the availability of shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas bays, although cyclical, has remained stable since the early 1950s. In 1989, 62,453,900 pounds of shrimp were collected in Texas waters for a value of $119,761,700; this made up 84 percent of the pounds and 94 percent of the value of all commercial marine products that year. In the 1990s shrimpers faced new concerns of competition and ethnic conflicts with newly settled Vietnamese immigrants and increased federal regulations, such as turtle excluder devices for nets, supported by environmental groups.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:Dallas Morning News, May 16, 1990, April 23, 1992. Wade L. Griffin, "Economic and Financial Analysis of Increasing Costs in the Gulf Shrimp Fleet," Fishery Bulletin 74 (1976). Robert Lee Maril, Texas Shrimpers (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1983). Texas Coastal and Marine Council, Texas Bay Shrimp Industry (Austin, 1983).
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