Written by John DeSantis
Young man with a plan
At age 11, Tyler Bourg has his Louisiana shrimping life mapped out
By John DeSantis
When playing with his Lego collection or Wii video game system, catching outfield flies in a baseball uniform or rapping along with Lil John tunes he's playing on his iPod, Tyler Bourg acts like a lot of other 11-year-olds.
But aboard the 28-foot shrimp boat named after him — the Lil T — this Dulac, La., boy is a cool, calm fisherman. The boat, he and his parents will proudly tell you, is his. Payments for it will come out of his share of shrimping proceeds this summer, and he looks forward to the day his name is on the vessel's title as well as the bow.
"I feel very good about that boat," says Tyler, who adds a sentiment familiar to most fishermen. "I like it, but I would like something bigger."
All of 4 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 70 pounds, the Grand Caillou Middle School student, who will enter 7th grade this fall, will need to be bigger himself before he can run the Lil T or any other commercial fishing vessel solo.
He cannot have a gear license in his name until he turns 18. Although he knows how to operate the vessel's winch, Tyler avoids doing so per his mom's request. And he acknowledges that he needs more practice docking the boat accurately. But he grows more confident each time out.
Still, Tyler wants to make clear his relation to the vessel and the craft of shrimping. He's not a deckhand.
"I am a shrimper," he states. "The boat never leaves without me on it, and I am the one driving it the most."
Shrimping is a family affair for the Bourgs. Tyler's father, Kyle, a part-time shrimper, accompanies him on trips, and his mother, Mitzi, often comes along.
From the time he could walk, Tyler's feet were on a shrimp boat deck. His earliest shrimping memories were made on his grandfather Ernest Verdin's 50-foot wooden trawler the Master Christopher.
"I was 4 years old," he recalls. "I was happy. I had my own little pair of black boots."
Those trips sparked his love of shrimping. Tyler enjoys the serenity shrimping offers, "being out there with no one to bother you," he says. "Especially at night, it's so quiet," Tyler adds. "All you can hear is the sound of the boat."
But he also likes the idea of getting paid for doing something he already loves. Seeing the bags rise from the warm Louisiana waters, full of writhing, wriggling shrimp...
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Louisiana crab fishermen and their catch are feeling the pressure of a downturn in the state economy, and a resulting upturn of people entering the fishery.
“It’s a crazy business right now,” said Pete Gerica, the New Orleans fisherman who now serves as president or the Louisiana Crab Task Force, a legislatively-created board of industry voices that makes recommendations to state government.