BRUNSWICK -- A below-average season has prompted Georgia officials to extend for another month the harvest of food shrimp.
The food shrimping season will continue until Jan. 31, Commissioner Noel Holcomb of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday. The season had been scheduled to end Monday.
The extension will affect commercial shrimpers who trawl Georgia's territorial waters up to three miles offshore. It also affects castnetters and people who use beach seines inshore, he said.
The extension came at the recommendation of department biologists in consensus with shrimpers and industry officials on the department's Shrimp Advisory Panel.
The natural resources department has extended the season annually since 1978, except for 1983, 1989 and 2000, when severe cold weather caused the water temperature to drop to lethal levels for white shrimp.
State law allows the department to use emergency authority to end the extension if the weather turns cold or if other factors threaten the shrimp.
Large white shrimp remain in several estuaries along the Georgia coast, said Patrick Geer of the department's Coastal Resources Division in Brunswick.
"As coastal water temperatures decline, these shrimp should move seaward," Geer said. "Also, shrimp leaving the estuaries of South Carolina will pass through Georgia coastal waters as they migrate southward."
Another factor in extending the season was the consumer demand for fresh domestic shrimp, Geer said.
Commercial shrimpers reported harvesting 1.3 million pounds of shrimp through October, the most recent data available. That's 50 percent below the state's 10-year average, according to state records.
The harvest is affected primarily by the abundance of shrimp, the number of commercial shrimpers and market conditions. Rising operating costs — particularly fuel expenses — have forced many shrimpers out of business and the ones who remain fish less often, Geer said.
This year's lower harvest is from "a decline in shrimp fishing effort combined with below-average abundance of shrimp," he said.
This year, there were 276 licensed trawlers in Georgia, compared to 394 five years ago.