The pink shrimp fishery revitalized a Key West economy that was stagnant in the immediate aftermath of a boom during WWII. Decades later, the importance of shrimping to the local economy has ebbed somewhat. It now falls far below tourism in importance at this port city. The fishery saw a decline in the 1980s then surged in the early 1990s and may again be showing signs of trouble.
Shrimp fishermen this past year have begun noticing a decline in the numbers of small shrimp in their nets. A noticeable reduction in shrimp that fall in the category of 50-60 to a pound, the usual sizing method of the industry, is occurring on the Tortugas grounds. Fishermen first notified Doug Gregory of the University of Florida Monroe County Seagrant Extension Service and Ed Little of the National Marine Fisheries Service who reported the situation to the Florida Bay Program Management Committee for follow up by scientists.
"We saw similar series of events in the mid 1980s," said Gregory. "Shrimp landings declined prior to the discovery of the Florida Bay seagrass die-off in 1987. Similarly, after the industrys latest report of declining catches Florida Bay biologists observed what may be the beginning of another episode of seagrass die-off. With similar conditions, we are wondering if the two developments are related."
Off the Keys, most pink shrimp are hatched as larvae on the Tortugas grounds. Water currents help transport them to the fertile nursery grounds of the Everglades and Florida Bay. Shrimp rely on the abundant seagrass beds in Florida Bay for food and shelter in the early stages of development. Predicting and managing the fisheries is difficult work. Ed Little pointed out, " A scientific analysis of the Key West shrimp industry demonstrates some of the difficulties in managing a fishery. A clear picture of the abundance of shrimp on the fishing grounds is hard to determine just by studying catch statistics. Depending on market conditions and other factors, vessels may not fish where and the way they did previously." Therefore, it is important to complement catch statistics with independent biological analyses.
Dr. Mike Robblee with the National Biological survey has been collecting data on the plants and animals in Florida Bay for several years. Robblees work along with that of Joan Browder and her colleagues at NMFS may provide an opportunity to compare the information from the fishing community to the data the scientists are collecting to see if there is a connection and what it may mean.
Now as communication between resource managers and research scientists improves, through initiatives such as the Florida Bay Interagency Science Program, a more accurate understanding of the fishery for Tortugas pink shrimp should develop. Perhaps in the future we will be able to not only understand what is currently happening to the fishery, but also predict for one, or two more years in the future.
For more information on this research, contact the Florida Bay Education Project at 305-852-3592. Additional information on a variety of topics is available from the University of Florida/Monroe County Cooperative Extension Service, 5100 College Road, Stock Island or call at 292-4501; fax: 292-4415; email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our web site http://monroe.ifas.ufl.edu. Our services are free and available to all without regard to race, color, sex, or national origin.