Written by Jen Finn
Shrimpin' ain't easy
Louisiana fleet determined to regain its footing amid spill recovery and compounding perennial problems
By John DeSantis
As the long stretch between winter and the opening of this spring's shrimp season wore on, the nagging question for this disaster-weary region's fishermen was whether undersea goo would foul their nets and whatever catch might be found.
"We thought for sure something was going to pop up," says Lucy Pinell of Chauvin, La., who operates the 64-foot trawler Brandon James with her husband, Randall.
"I was worried about it," says Tony Thibodeaux, who set out early in federal waters with his trawler, the Tyler James, before state waters opened. He and many others were relieved to pull up clean lines.
With the opener in May, however, clean hauls alone did not ease anxieties. Shrimpers encountered old problems related to low prices that kept boats tied up for long periods in 2009. One new problem was the lack of demand for Gulf of Mexico shrimp resulting from consumer concerns over spill contamination. Once the season was fully opened, fresh water from historic flooding of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers threatened to chase shrimp to saltier waters sooner than usual.
With the season in full swing the good news is that there are indeed shrimp. The bad news is that they are small, abundant in spotty locales, and that the cost of getting to them is higher than ever.
Challenging as the season is, a core group of forward-thinking fishermen say they are working to improve the fishery, and thus fishermen's fortunes. But resistance to change is strong.
"Something has to be done," says Lance Nacio, as he trawls onboard his boat, the Anna Marie, a scant two weeks after the spring season has opened. Nacio is one of a few fishermen who have developed a network for direct sales, making him less reliant on local processors.
"These guys are out there wearing out their equipment, their bodies and their minds and not even getting the 2000 dockside prices. And the dockside price does affect what I can sell my product for. With the price they are paying, this is going to get ugly this summer."
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