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Wednesday, December 11, 2019



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Shrimpers call spring season a ‘disaster’

Shrimpers call spring season a ‘disaster’


With the spring inshore shrimp season officially closed, distributor Dean Blanchard said he’s probably received half of the normal haul from the shrimpers.

“It was a disaster,” he said of the season, which closed June 28.

Record rainfall in the Midwest caused water levels on the Mississippi to rise and stay high for several months. The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre spillway twice this year -- for the first time since it was created -- dumping freshwater out of the river and causing it to inundate typically brackish or salty waters. The process displaced the brown shrimp.

Blanchard said the shrimpers had fresh water not only to the east with the Bonnet Carre but the west from the Atchafalaya River, limiting where they could travel to try to find more shrimp.

“We were going backwards,” he said. “Some were spending more in fuel than what you got in shrimp.”

At a certain point, Blanchard stopped giving shrimpers credit toward diesel for their boats. He said, “I can’t afford to finance everybody.”

As of June 28, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reported a 66 percent decrease in brown shrimp catches in the Atchafalaya Basin and a 50 percent decrease in the Barataria and Terrebonne basins.

The Pontchartrain and Calcasieu basins showed the largest decreases in the state at 80 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

Venice-based shrimper Acy Cooper, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, said he started to catch some “brownies” toward the end of the season, but the season was a “flop” overall.

“We didn’t make money with it, just enough to get by,” he said.

He ended the season catching about two-thirds less than normal. To find saltier water, Cooper said, shrimpers in his area would probably have to go out 100 miles or encroach on someone else’s area.

“A lot of boats aren’t big enough to make those long travels down here,” he said. “And no matter where you’re going, you’re going to be on top of someone else. It’s just a bad situation.”

In June, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sent a request for a declaration of a fisheries disaster to the federal government in an attempt to get relief for all of the fishing interests along the state’s coast.

Blanchard and Cooper said they were hopeful that the request would result in some money for the people in the industry.

Cooper also serves on the Shrimp Task Force and the joint task force working group that includes representatives from the oyster, crab and fish task forces. He said members of each task force plan to travel to Washington, D.C., July 15-18 to talk with Congress about supporting the fisheries disaster declaration.

He said most shrimpers understand the necessity for opening the spillway to save others from flooding.

“We know it had to happen,” said Cooper. “It just kills us in the mean time.”

Blanchard said he’ll probably have to lay off some of his workers soon, saying he can’t afford to pay them with all the credit he’s given and the lack of shrimp.

“I don’t see anything else to do,” he said.

Should the fisheries receive aid, it’s unlikely that it would be distributed within the next year. According to a press release from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, a fisheries disaster declaration requires the loss to be observed over 12 months.

“Given that the extent of damage to Louisiana’s fisheries cannot be fully determined until floodwaters recede and a 12-month evaluation can be completed, LDWF cautions against any premature assessment,” according to the release.

The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission passed a resolution recently requesting for the department to continue to collect data to determine the loss and offer its support of the governor’s disaster declaration request.

Despite the difficulties, Cooper said he never stopped going out to try to catch shrimp.

“When you’re a fisherman, it doesn’t matter. You just go,” he said. “The day you don’t go could be the day you get your haul.”

Blanchard and Cooper said that if the water recedes in the next few weeks, the shrimpers could still see a productive inshore fall season.

Cooper said they’ve seen some positive signs with the amount of small white shrimp.

“It all depends on the river,” he said.

 

-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Halle Parker can be reached at hparker@houmatoday.com or 857-2204. Follow her on Twitter, @_thehalparker.