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.

“A fascinating study of the shrimp industry at the current time. The book is well written, the subject is interesting, and the theoretical aspects add both depth and breadth to our knowledge of maritime communities in the United States, and beyond.”

—James Acheson, author of Lobster Gangs of Maine

“A highly readable and long overdue critique of fisheries research and policy.”

—David Griffith, author of Jones’s Minimal: Low Wage Labor in the United States

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