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Shrimp tales


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2003

Ask a fisherman to name the most versatile inshore bait and, nine out of 10 times, pink shrimp will be the answer.

Snook, trout and redfish feed on these feisty crustaceans, and fortunately for local anglers, bait shrimp are caught consistently from fall through spring.

Pink shrimp, the species found in most west coast bait shops, spend most of their one-year life cycle in estuaries such as Tampa Bay. These nocturnal creatures hide in grass beds for most of the day.

Pink shrimp (there is no difference between those sold in bait shops and seafood stores) spawn offshore in high-salinity water. The small, post-larval shrimp then drift in with the tide and settle in the grass beds.

The shrimp spend about six months in this environment before heading offshore to spawn. The cycle then begins all over again.

Bait shrimpers use roller trawls that skim across the top of the grass flats. They fish exclusively at night, usually to fill an order for a specific bait shrimp distributor.

Shrimp come in many varieties. Depending on the species, shrimp range from about a half-inch long to almost 12 inches. The life cycle varies geographically and by species. Some live as long as 61/2 years; others, such as the pink shrimp, live only a year.

Nationally, the annual shrimp catch runs close to 400-million pounds. The gulf states usually lead in shrimp catches, with Texas and Louisiana the leaders. The shrimp fishery has the highest market value of all U.S. fisheries.

Locally, Tampa Bay area bait shrimpers (Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus) netted more than 1.2-million pounds of shrimp in 2001.

According to the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg, 146 bait shrimp boats made 9,808 trips that generated about $3.7-million in sales. About 80 percent of those shrimp were caught in Citrus and Hernando counties.

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