Fuel prices and cheap shrimp cripple Louisiana’s shrimp industry, still recovering from Ida | New
In August, the small fishing community of Cocodrie in the parish of Terrebonne was devastated by Hurricane Ida.
The Category 4 hurricane ripped through homes, capsized boats and destroyed fishing gear. The village’s ice factories and processing plants were destroyed and the livelihoods of many residents were disrupted.
Nearly a year later, residents of this village and other fishing villages along the coast have yet to fully recover. Record fuel costs and low shrimp prices are making this recovery even more difficult.
Darrell Domangue, 56, has lived in Cocodrie all his life and shrimp fishing is all he has ever known. However, with shrimp ranging from 75 cents to $1 a pound and the cost of fuel rising, he wonders if he will be able to repay the $105,000 he borrowed to buy a new boat.
The average price per gallon of diesel in Louisiana is now $5.37, down from $2.91 a year ago, according to AAA data.
“We don’t receive anything for our product,” he said. “All of our money goes back into spending.”
Shrimp prices have remained low and Domangue said he does not see any price increases in the immediate future. He said he wants commercial fishers to work in solidarity to fight price declines.
“Fishermen don’t stick together,” he said. “If we were to stick together, we could put a fixed price or just leave the boats moored.”
Along the Gulf Coast, reported shrimp catches were down in 2021. In December, just 4.4 million pounds were landed, the lowest December total in at least 22 years, according to the Directorate of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Monitoring. ‘ Southeast Fisheries Science Center.
For the year, catches totaled 72.8 million pounds, slightly more than in 2020 but well below the 2000 average of 120 million pounds. In Louisiana, December landings were 62% lower at the historical average.
Large wharf-owned fishing boats flood markets to drive down prices, hurting family businesses, Domangue said. The big boat basically sells the shrimp at competitive prices that no other fisherman could afford.
Falling prices as well as the cost of rebuilding after the hurricane led some to leave Cocodrie for a better opportunity, said shrimper and crabber Kimothy Guy.
“I’ve lived here for 54 years,” Guy said. “I’ve never seen anything as bad as this. Most people who screwed up their houses, a bunch of them, they don’t even come back. Everybody just moved out or went out of business .
Safeguards at shrimp and processing plants also pushed prices down, Guy said. A local processing plant operates on a first-come, first-served basis, and after unloading 25,000 pounds of shrimp, it closes for a day until it can complete processing.
Many nearby factories were destroyed by Ida, Guy said. The processing that happened in Louisiana is now done in Mississippi or Alabama.
Headaches don’t stop with treatment. Daily expenses for boats have also increased, Guy said. During Ida, Guy lost 500 crab pots. Before the hurricane, the price of a trap hovered around $30. Now it’s $60 per trap.
“Everything we’re going to buy for our boat, the cost is exorbitant,” Guy said. “But the price of shrimp is not increasing. The price always goes down. »
Guy’s house and boat were also destroyed during the hurricane. After replacing nets, generators, electronics, fixing holes, he looks at a bill for $75,000.
“You’re looking at a $10,000 to $15,000 work week, but you can’t catch enough shrimp to not pay any $15,000 to $20,000 bill,” Guy said. “
Even those working on large ships can barely make ends meet, Guy said. “They work 15, 20, 30 days at a time and they come home and they look at their check and you only get $1,100 a month.”
Industry near Delcambre has been less affected by Ida, said Wendell Verret, port manager for the Twin Parish Port Commission. After Ida, the processing plants remained operational and the fishing fleets were able to continue doing their job.
“We missed the bullseye on this storm,” said Verret. “On the east side of the state, the storm has certainly affected this industry and we are very concerned about its future.”
The biggest problem Verret faced last year was too much fresh water coming from the Mississippi River. Freshwater killed much of the shrimp population, he noted, resulting in low catches. Despite the storm and the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry prevailed by adapting its usual farmer’s market to queues of cars to buy shrimp.
The issue affecting the industry the most is importing from overseas, Verret said. The less regulated international fishing industry can sell to Americans at competitive prices that local fishermen cannot match. This is due to lax food and health regulations, permits and minimum wage laws, Verret said.
“We just need a fairer arrangement,” Verret said. “Why do we have to take this precaution to protect the public, when these imports may receive barely any protection?”
Verret said the best way for consumers to help the industry is to make sure Louisiana residents buy only local produce and restaurants buy only Louisiana seafood. This would ensure that local fishermen are supported and compete with international or out-of-state companies.
For many of these Louisiana shrimpers, there is no other option. There is no search for new jobs. They grew up on fishing boats. They learned from their fathers and grandfathers. Perhaps after villages like Cocodrie fully recover, the industry will rebound, but it may take some time.
“I have worked all my life for what I have,” Domangue said. “I will try to protect him.”