Gulf Coast Soundings

People and Policy in the Mississippi Shrimp Industry

E. Paul Durrenberger

Fisheries issues have been attracting increasing media attention in the wake of contamination scares, controversies over new government regulations, and environmental concerns about coastal zone management—especially the loss of wetlands, coastal erosion, pollution, and overfishing.

Scrutinizing the people, policies, institutions, and issues tied to the shrimping industry in Mississippi, Paul Durrenberger provides this first examination ever of the complexities of an American fishing industry in a single geographical area. He presents an analysis of one elaborate system—from the toils and turmoils of the people who catch the shrimp to the quandaries facing the policymakers who try to regulate them.

“Based on over two hundred interviews with respondents in all sections of the fishery in 1989, [Durrenberger] tries to understand how the elements of the shrimp production system are interconnected. . . . [He] portrays the industry from the perspectives of fishers, processors and managers.

—The Northern Mariner

“Durrenberger [places] shrimping into a broader context, describing the history of the industry, particularly the roles of unions and court decisions against shrimper organizations as violations of laws against price fixing, and discussing the shrimp processing sector’s influence over discussions concerning work and its role in establishing the Vietnamese in the industry.

—American Neptune
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The shrimping industry, he contends, occurs on a series of interrelated levels and dimensions and is influenced by the ideas and actions of shrimpers, processors, fisheries managers, bureaucrats, creditors, environmentalists, and scientists. It is also one segment of a wider social, political, economic, and environmental totality.

At a local level Durrenberger investigates the impact of competition from Vietnamese refugees, rivalry between bay and gulf fishermen, an escalating overpopulation of shrimpers in general, and wide-spread resistance to costly, federally mandated devices designed to save sea turtles. Exploring how the industry is increasingly bound to the global economy, he illuminates the threat to the livelihoods of independent shrimpers from ever increasing imports.

Durrenberger assesses the adequacy of folk models of shrimpers and policymakers alike. Decisions about the industry's future, he argues, must be based on valid data and realistic expectations. Too often policies are derived from untested folk models—concepts formulated by participants to justify or rationalize rather than explain what they do.

Based on detailed interviews, Gulf Coast Soundings will be a valuable resource for anthropologists, policymakers, public administrators, resource managers, sociologists, biologists, and anyone involved or interested in the economic and environmental future of the Gulf Coast, or more generally, in fisheries and coastal areas.

Additional Titles in the Rural America Series