Louisiana shrimpers are in crisis, begging for federal help

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 11:05 PM CDT
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JEAN LAFITTE, La. (WVUE) - Pennies on the dollar. That’s how some Louisiana fishermen are describing their livelihoods, with buyers deciding daily if they are open for business or not.

Local shrimpers are asking for federal assistance and fear they won’t be able to feed their families if they don’t get it.

Louis Parria is one of the many captains that met in Jean Lafitte on Tuesday (Sept. 12) to talk about what they are facing.

“We just taking it day by day, trying to stay afloat right now,” Parria said.

The third-generation fisherman grew up in the swamps of Louisiana.

“I’ve been on boats since I was 5 years old,” Parria said. “We’ve been winding up, just running the boats by ourselves, just to try and get by.”

Parria is a father of six: Two boys and four girls. He says he’s down to his last $200, constantly overdrawing his account to pay for bills, food and diapers for his 2-year-old.

It’s that struggle that sent Acy Cooper to the state capitol in May. The president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association is desperate for federal assistance.

“There’s gonna be a collapse of the industry. We’re on the verge of collapse now,” Cooper said. “I’m 63 years old, been fishing my whole life. I have never seen a shutdown as we are going through. They might buy two days, they shut down for four or five days. So, we can’t work at that rate.”

Cooper says the market has been flooded with billions of pounds of imported shrimp, leaving no room for the local catch. Shrimpers at Tuesday’s meeting say they are lucky if they get $0.60 a pound these days. And that’s if the wholesale buyers are even accepting them.

“They just started buying this morning and they’ve already shut down buying this evening,” Parria said

The bleak situation has left Parria unable to employ a deck crew.

“I’ve worked with hands my whole life. I can do four guys’ job just myself and barely make ends meet right now.”

Judy Belsome’s late husband faced hard times back in the early 2000s, eventually having to sell his 85-foot steel hull vessel to make ends meet.

“Without that boat, and you making money on your shrimp sales, you can’t make your house payments,” Belsome told Fox 8.

She says it’s never been this bad in Lafitte.

“People selling on the side of the road, selling shrimp for $2 a pound? No, that was never done. That is the lowest I’ve ever seen,” Belsome said. “The shrimpers are getting hit so hard that the government needs to step in immediately. Don’t wait. Because that is our lifeline for them.”

The fishermen are begging the federal government to place a cap on the amount of shrimp allowed to be imported into the country.

Cooper says they aren’t stopping until they get the help they need.

“We’re gonna make noise. And if we have to, we’ll go to Washington. We’re not going to stop at this point because too many lives, too many communities, rural communities that depend on this. That’s what we do, is gonna fall.”

Belsome says, “There’ll be no Lafitte. Lafitte depends on the shrimpers.”

In 2019, state lawmakers passed a measure requiring Louisiana restaurants to list on their menus if they are serving imported seafood. Violators can face a $50 fine for their first offense.

As our news partners at the Louisiana Illuminator report, there were more than 2,600 violations of the law in June, with no fines levied at the time of the report.

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