‘Verge of extinction’: Louisiana shrimpers call for legislators to take action, cap shrimp imports
“We have begged and pleaded for years and years and years for help, and we’ve been shunned, disregarded, ignored continuously,” said Captain Kip Marquize. “No longer can a blind eye be turned to our cause, it just cannot happen any longer. We will be completely extinct.”
CUT OFF (WVUE) - Due to years of increasing shrimp imports, lax testing of imports and rising costs of diesel fuel, Louisiana’s shrimpers say they’re in dire straits, and the entire shrimping industry is in peril because of it.
The Louisiana Shrimp Association held a “State of the Industry” meeting in Cut Off on Tuesday, with the goal of gathering as many shrimpers as they can to call on legislators to take action.
Hundreds packed the auditorium, frustrated by years of inaction by lawmakers and discussing specific issues in the industry, from high levels of imported shrimp driving out local product to exorbitant costs of diesel eating away at profits.
“We have coasts that are just full of shrimp, we have processors that can’t sell shrimp, we have docks that can’t get rid of them,” said Acy Cooper, President of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. “We have people that just can’t go out because they can’t get rid of the shrimp, and there’s no need for that.”
Cooper said, this year, more than two billion pounds of shrimp will be imported into the United States, a number that has been steadily rising year after year.
“The importers, they got so much coming in, they’re starting to buy infrastructure, they’re buying freezers, they’re trying to buy processing plants. When they do that, you’re pushing us completely out,” he said. “We’re about to lose this industry. If we can’t come together now as an industry and try to get the right people in office to try to make the difference or have them vow to step up and help us, then next year it’s going to be a dire situation.”
Add to that, the rising costs of diesel are also a thorn in the sides of shrimpers, with many saying they can barely make ends meet.
“You’re paying 5 dollars a gallon for fuel, you’re getting 95, 85, 75 cents a pound for shrimp,” Cooper said. “Economically, it just doesn’t work.”
“We are all struggling right now. I’m about to be bankrupt, I can’t do this no more,” said Tal Plork, another shrimper. “They need to stop the import right now, that way the fisherman here can live.”
A 2019 Lee Zurik investigation found the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only tested two percent of the total seafood imported annually. More than 12 percent of shrimp samples tested positive for unsafe drugs.
Between January 2014 and November 2018, the analysis found the FDA turned away farm-raised shrimp more than any other type of seafood. And when looking specifically at seafood refused for unsafe drugs, farmed shrimp also topped that list.
“I’ve seen us struggle, I’ve seen us strive, I’ve seen the best of Louisiana’s wetlands and I’ve watched it vanish before my very eyes. But I have never seen anything like this,” said Captain Kip Marquize. “We’re on the verge of extinction. When you lose us, you lose your culture, you lose your heritage, you lose your seafood, you lose everything that is Louisiana, and Louisiana may as well be Nebraska.”
Marquize has been on the water for more than 35 years. He said he and other shrimpers are dismayed by an apparent lack of concern from state and federal lawmakers.
“We have begged and pleaded for years and years and years for help, and we’ve been shunned, disregarded, ignored continuously,” Marquize said. “This isn’t something that can be put off, this is something that needs to be addressed with urgency.”
In 2019, the Louisiana legislature passed a bill that was signed into law, requiring restaurants to label seafood, specifically shrimp and crawfish, as imported. Cooper said that bill was a step in the right direction, but his fellow shrimpers are still being crushed by importers bringing in shrimp from Indonesia and India, among other countries.
“Don’t think just cause you walk in a restaurant and you order shrimp that you’re going to get our product,” he said, encouraging the public to eat local. “Nobody comes to Louisiana to eat shrimp from Thailand or Indonesia.”
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