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Shrimp bill would offer economic boon for Texas

Shrimp boats trawling the Texas coast and federal waters will soon be a familiar site with the opening of the Gulf Shrimp Season in mid-July.

What may not be as familiar is the economic impact of Texas’ shrimp industry, if proposed legislation is passed that will allow non-Texas shrimpers to sell their catch in this state.

Between 2005 and 2014, Jefferson County’s shrimp harvest accounted for 24 percent of the total Texas shrimp harvest by weight and 26 percent of the total Texas shrimp harvest by value, according to information from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

New legislation has been introduced that could add to those figures.

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, recently filed House Bill 1260 that would require non-Texas commercial shrimpers to obtain an occupational license in order to unload their catches in Texas.

Texas is the only state with a moratorium on commercial Gulf shrimper licenses meaning no new licenses are being issued, or have been issued, for a number of years. Out of an approximate 1,100 commercial Gulf shrimpers, 550 are of Texas.

“Texas has the largest fleet,” Andrea Hance, executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association, said.

Out-of-state shrimpers who trawl the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico — which is only nine miles offshore, are not allowed to come into Texas waters without a license. They cannot shrimp Texas waters or unload at a Texas dock and sell their product or even stop to refuel or shop in Texas.

“Texas is missing out on the economic benefit of those boats unloading in Texas,” Hance said.

Hance said the occupational license wouldn’t allow the out-of-state shrimpers the opportunity to shrimp in Texas waters but to pass through, come to port and unload at Texas docks thus giving Texas the economic value.

The fee for a commercial Gulf shrimp unloading license is $1,485, or an amount set by the commission, whichever amount is more, according to the legislation.

Hance said there was some opposition to the amount of the fee but Texas Parks and Wildlife Department actually set the fee as the same amount as it is to purchase a commercial Gulf shrimping license.

If the fees were less, then less revenue would go back into the system to the Department of Agriculture for the GO TEXAN Shrimp program. GO TEXAN represents Texas agri-business on state, national and international levels by building recognition for the GO TEXAN mark and helping find Texas products, according to go.texan.org

Information about wild caught Texas shrimp is plentiful on the site; Texas seafood generates $846 million in sales and provides 12,134 jobs for Texans.

“Part of the revenue goes back upstream to the Department of Agriculture’s GO TEXAS Shrimp program, which is a marketing program,” she said. “We would be shooting our self in the foot if the fees were lowered.”

The fees do not pertain to Texas shrimpers.

Trey Pearson, general manager with JBS Packing Inc., is part of one of the largest packinghouses along the coast and in the top 10 in volume and sales in the U.S. Pearson is on the Texas Shrimp Association board.

Like Hance, Pearson is an advocate of the bill. Currently he received shrimp at the Port Arthur dock and also sends trucks to other states to get shrimp.

“There are no adverse effects to allowing this to happen,” Pearson said of the bill. “Out-of-state shrimpers still won’t be able to fish the Texas waters.”

The benefits for Texas are many.

“This will bring vessels in to buy fuel, perform maintenance o their boats, buy groceries; it’s a very good thing,” he said.

Refueling a shrimp boat, he said, means the pilot could be purchasing $20,000 to $30,000 in fuel.

The bill states, in part, that a commercial Gulf shrimp unloading license is required for the purchase of aquatic products by wholesale and retail fish dealers. Also, no restaurant owner, operator or employee may purchase for consumption by the restaurant’s patrons on the restaurant’s premises any aquatic product from any person or entity in the state unless they have the required license.

Phelan said the out-of-state shrimpers must go back to their point of origin but if the bill passes, those shrimpers can dock in Texas, sell their product and allow Texas packing houses a chance to sell the product.

“This will provide more jobs and give sales tax revenue to the area,” Phelan said. “This will help the restaurants, operators and shrimp/fisher dealers because right now, they can’t buy that product.”

The legislation may indirectly stem some of the flow of shrimp coming from other countries.

“We can’t buy shrimp caught nine-miles offshore (in federal waters) but can accept shrimp that’s shipped in in from overseas,” he said.

The U.S. imports shrimp from countries including India, Indonesia, Ecuador, Vietnam and Thailand, to name a few, according to a story that ran on Bloomberg.com

Phelan’s bill has the backing of the Texas Shrimp Association.

“July 15 (opening of the Gulf shrimping season in Texas and federal waters) is like the Super Bowl. Every boat that is able is up and down the coast and boats will be staged up waiting for the season to begin,” Pearson said. “There is no reason for the revenues to leave the state.”

Reporter: Mary Meaux, 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews