The Worst Shrimp Harvest in 50 Years

Shrimp boat hull and cabin on blocks near Lakeshore in Hancock County, Mississippi. Library of Congress

Christine Blank reported earlier this month that the Mississippi Gulf Coast just experienced its worst shrimp harvest since the 1970s. The decline in catch is due to the months-long opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway over the summer, which essentially diverted much of the Mississippi River into the Mississippi Sound and flooded the normally salty sound with freshwater. Here are a few of the disturbing statistics from Blank’s article:

  • The shrimp catch was down 60 percent.
  • The blue crab catch was down 40 percent.
  • Oyster mortality was 95-98 percent.

Blank reported that it will take three to four years for the crab population to recover, and up to a decade for the oysters to recover.

The crabs and oysters will recover. But what if the Bonnet Carre spillway is opened again next year, or in two years? If 98 percent of oysters died this year, how many of the remaining oysters would survive another opening next year? How long would the recovery take then?

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman has put forth one idea that could lessen harm to the Mississippi Sound’s ecosystem in the future: open the Morganza Spillaway — which would divert Mississippi River water to the Atchafalaya Basin — in conjunction with or instead of opening Bonnet Carre. Hoseman is correct — something must be done, whether it is opening a different spillway or some other solution that has not been thought of yet. The Bonnet Carre spillway cannot be opened every year, or every couple years.

I was chatting with my father over the weekend, and he mentioned a new oyster restaurant is opening in Bay St. Louis. That’s fantastic — but how long will people be willing to travel to the Gulf Coast to eat its oysters if it doesn’t have any oysters?