The US Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery is one of the most diverse and valuable in the nation. Presently it is mainly dependent upon the harvest of three closely related, estuarine-dependent species: brown, white and pink shrimp (Penaeus aztecus, P. setiferus, and P. duroraum, respectively). The present-day fishery is a classic example of an open access fishery which has been allowed and, in some cases, encouraged to expand well beyond the point of maximum net economic return.
The fishery finds itself embroiled in a number of heated controversies especially over the incidental capture of sea turtles and finfish, with red snapper being the current example. Given the sheer size of the industry and the low marginal returns the average shrimper receives, it would be difficult enough for the industry to respond to these charges. Furthermore, recent massive imports of pond-raised shrimp, especially from China, have greatly eroded the shrimpers' already limited economic flexibility. Added to this is the possibility or likelihood of precipitous declines in yields associated with loss of productive estuarine habitats and the release into the marine environment of unspecified amounts of stored toxic wastes.
Nothing in the history of the fishery until the mid-1970s prepared the shrimpers to expect anything more than a larger cumulative harvest. During the past 300 years the fishery has undergone a mostly unplanned expansion with little or no regard for the future of the resource.