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Fort Myers Beach shrimpers face uncertain waters post-Hurricane Ian

Captains point to imported shrimp bumping up supply, driving prices down
Posted at 9:45 PM, Jan 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-24 18:29:50-05

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — On San Carlos Island, just off Shrimp Boat Lane, the local shrimp fishing community is navigating troubled waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Even with their ships repaired, the challenges for these shrimpers are far from over.

Henry Gore, a seasoned shrimp boat captain of over 40 years, tells us it's the worst state he's seen for the local shrimping industry.

"After Ian, everybody was saying 'Well you must be killing it now because there's hardly any boats left,' but it's not that way. There's hardly any boats fishing. There used to be 50, 60, 70 boats working out of this harbor, now there's maybe 10," Gore explains.

The decline is due to two main factors: the high cost of boat repairs, often exceeding $100,000, and the competition from internationally imported farm shrimp. This surge of cheaper, farm-raised shrimp has saturated the market, driving down prices and making it increasingly difficult for local shrimpers to compete.

A few years ago, a month-long shrimping expedition could yield around $60,000 worth of shrimp. Today, that figure has halved, significantly impacting the livelihoods of those who depend on this trade.

"When the price was high, we used to take the extra hand, but when the price is low, we can't afford to take someone else. We'd rather work a two-person boat," shared Edward Ramchurran, another shrimp boat captain.

The local shrimping community is now placing its hopes on increased tourism to Fort Myers Beach. They believe that more visitors could lead to greater consumption of local shrimp, as tourists seek out authentic, locally-sourced seafood.

"We wanted to buy some shrimp that was local, not just frozen in the store," said Deb Walton, who stopped by the harbor to purchase the shrimp.

Joe Savage, another patron, added, "I don't like farm-raised shrimp, no one does really. The pink shrimp are the best down here."

Despite the hopes placed on tourism, the reality remains grim for many in the shrimping industry. With most shrimp boats now up for sale due to unsustainable shrimp prices, the future of this traditional trade remains uncertain.