Despite ideal weather conditions for the 2012 spring brown shrimp season predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, President Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimp Association said he is predicting catch numbers to be 50 to 70 percent below the five-year average when they are released by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
He attributes the drop in catches along the coast to oil and oil dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster and resulting oil spill in April 2010.
Although the preliminary numbers for the last brown shrimp season will not be officially released until mid to late August by LDWF, he said inquiries made by him to docks along coastal Louisiana are portraying a dismal early season.
Guidry said he has done this before for white shrimp catches, and his numbers were close to actual state numbers, so he expected the unofficial poll to mirror official state numbers.
“I call the docks because they are easier to deal with (for assessments) because they deal with a smaller number of people,” Guidry said. “They get their data from the fisherman. A survey of all the docks from Barataria Estuary, including some places from the east side of the Mississippi River, including Plaquemines Parish, Venice, Buras, Empire as well as the docks in Terrebonne, LaFitte and Grand Isle, and westward into Vermilion Bay show their numbers are anywhere from 50 to 70 percent off.”
The LSA president said because of low catches along the eastern shores of the state, many boats went into Vermilion Bay, resulting in overcrowded fisheries and lower catches in those areas.
Guidry said he was expecting to see very low numbers for state shrimp fisheries, including the Mississippi Basin, Barataria Basin and the Terrebonne area to be off, despite a strong season being predicted by NOAA.
“We did not have a high river, we had ideal weather conditions, a mild winter, and NOAA predicted we would be above average and that was misrepresented as we had one hell of a good season based on their scientific model before any shrimp were caught,” he said. “I received multiple phone calls from shrimpers that were actually losing money. I expect official catch numbers to be down, despite the favorable conditions, when they come in.”
Guidry attributes the low catches to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010.
He said officials and the media are trying to portray an image of “everything is wonderful now in the Gulf of Mexico,” but numbers are down from areas that had oil, and there are parts of the Gulf of Mexico that are still closed to commercial fishermen on the eastern side of Barataria Bay.
“No one will come out and say or be able to prove that oil and oil dispersants are the problem,” Guidry said. “That is ridiculous that they always blame it on something else. Last year, they blamed it on the high river, but this year, weather conditions and salinities were perfect.
“We should have had a much better season than what people are telling me where the shrimp come in for 300 fishermen.”
He said a friend out of Plaquemines Parish that had a dock told him “this is the worst shrimp season he has gone through in 32 years.” Another that has been in business over 60 years told Guidry “this was the first time the dock operated and never made a dollar.”
The LSA president said the bad catches were being made worse by a lack of financial help for local fishermen.
“In 2010, we were able to get shrimpers jobs as vessels of opportunity after they closed our waters down,” Guidry said. “They also got some money from DCCF emergency fund, but since then, we have not received anything. We are hoping the BP settlement will be fair to everyone, but I don’t see that. After bad seasons, hurricanes and the worst oil spill in U.S. history, we are up against the ropes and we are also battling imports over the last 10 to 12 years.”
And it is not only the fishermen that are suffering.
He said the shrimp industry is also in danger of losing infrastructure along the coast.
“What will happen is we won’t only lose fishermen, we will lose infrastructure, which is hard to replace,” Guidry said. “It is also about docks, ice houses, net shops, fuel docks, processors and factories. Having been around and worked to have our infrastructure rebuilt after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when it is lost, the ability to put fishermen to work goes away. The more fishermen get out of the business, the less the infrastructure is able to stay in business and that is very hard to replace.”