La. Shrimpers Complain Low Prices Aren't Worth Their Effort
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This week hundreds of shrimpers in Louisiana parked their boats and pulled up their nets. They stopped working because they want more money for their catch. It's a new attempt to organize a local industry that has been hard-hit for years. Eve Troeh at member station WWNO reports.
EVE TROEH, BYLINE: Louisiana shrimp season launched with high hopes.
DEACON LLOYD DUPLANTIS: How ya'll all doing?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi.
DEACON LLOYD DUPLANTIS: May god bless ya'll, OK. Have a wonderful season, all right?
TROEH: Shrimp prices were high this past April when boats held their annual Blessing of the Fleet. Shrimpers prayed those prices would stay, but experienced boat captains knew better than to count on it.
KIMOTHY GUY: Prices change overnight.
TROEH: Shrimper Kimothy Guy competes in the global market against farmed shrimp, mostly from Asia.
GUY: You can come in in one morning and get a good price, next morning you'll leave, the price went down 15 - 20 cents, 30 cents, I mean, it's day-to-day.
TROEH: Things were different when his dad and grandpa caught shrimp and the Gulf of Mexico dominated the market. Today, 90 percent of the 1 billion pounds of shrimp Americans eat per year comes from farms.
GUY: They don't have to go out and have expenses like we have expenses. And we've got fuel and ice and groceries. That's what's killing everybody on the Bayou.
TROEH: He points to a dozen boats left to rot by shrimpers who gave up. Each time he goes out on the water, Guy spends about $2,000 to gas up his 50-foot long trawler, never knowing if he'll make back that money.
GUY: Some days are good and some days are bad. You got to take the good with the bad. It's all in the hands of the water.
TROEH: But some shrimpers complain about the low prices on offer from shrimp dealers. They're the ones who buy from the boats and sell to wholesalers and restaurants. Shrimper Rocky Morales says earlier this summer he got about $4 a pound.
ROCKY MORALES: And then they dropped it to $2.50 the last time I came in, and so that was about a week ago.
TROEH: Any lower and it's not worth the effort. So Rocky and hundreds of other shrimpers agreed on a plan - for five days this week boats docked.
R. MORALES: Some good might come out, but we don't know.
TROEH: Have you ever done this before?
R. MORALES: No. Talked about it, but never did try it.
CLINT MORALES: That ain't going to work.
TROEH: Clint Morales, Rocky's dad, is a retired shrimper.
C. MORALES: When you shut down the whole coast, got to shut down dealers - everybody got quit. Then you might get something done, maybe.
TROEH: All parties need to work together to combat cheaper imports, says David Chauvin. He's a shrimp dealer and processor. The high prices at the beginning of the season this season, he says, were due to a disease that hit shrimp farms. Since then, imports have bounced back. Now wild shrimp are reaching their season peak - with more supply on hand, prices drop.
DAVID CHAUVIN: Really the most important thing in our industry is imports. They're the dog wagging the tail now.
TROEH: Everyone, it seems, is scraping by. A boat captain and his teenage deckhand shovel ice over freshly caught shrimp. Their boat just pulled in after a catch, defying the work stoppage. They don't want to talk. Rocky Morales, his boat idled nearby, doesn't judge them.
R. MORALES: Younger people got to still go out and try to pay bills and feed their family, you know?
TROEH: Morales says it's in shrimpers' blood to work, even when the money's no good. For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.