For Some, “Shrimping Not Worth It”
The BP well may be capped, but the economic fallout of the oil spill continues to spread across the Gulf Coast. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fish (LDWF) reports that only about 20 percent of shrimp boats in the state have actually returned to shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico, because expenses are high and profits are low — making shrimping just not worth it.
One 57-year-old fisherman, Pete Gerica of New Orleans East, who bucked the 20 person trend by returning to fish, crab and shrimp, says he must consider the math every time he takes his boat out, to determine whether the trip will pay off or not. The mathematical formula used by fishermen takes into account a series of numbers that currently conspire against them.
For starters, there’s the cost of fuel. “The price of fuel keeps going up, which is hindering things,” says Gerica. “We’re paying close to $3 per gallon, and I burn 50 gallons of fuel per trip.”
When shrimpers return to the dock with fresh catch, they are confronted with a different reality than in the past. The number of buyers is down. Gerica says he only knows of two buyers of big shrimp since Hurricane Katrina and “both are trying to survive.”
If he depends solely on selling shrimp at the dock, he can count on making far less than he used to.
“If I have to go to the docks to sell my shrimp,” Gerica says, “I can only get $1.40 per pound — that’s 75 cents to $1 less per pound than I used to get. The docks prices are low, because they’re having problems when they turn around and sell the shrimp, because of perception problems.
“It’s very hard to make a profit as a fisherman when your sales across the board are off.”
Says another Louisiana shrimper, “The cost of everything involved – boats and fuel and equipment – far outweighs the price nowadays.”
For some fishermen, the falling prices and lack of demand have kept them from making investments in their businesses.
One shrimper says, “You like to have new equipment when the season first opens.” But this year, he didn’t invest the $900 for a new trolling net. The shrimping season was too unpredictable due to the BP oil spill, and he couldn’t justify the added expense.
Even as he calculates whether it’s worth leaving the dock for his business, Gerica is mindful of how his actions impact the overall economy and demand for Louisiana shrimp. Supplying a product there is no demand for will only decrease the already shrinking profit margin for him and his peers.
“If I think I’m going to catch more than I can sell for a good price, I’d rather not catch it,” Gerica says. “The market’s already flooded, and I don’t want to fill it up more, because it’ll just hurt the price.”
The 80 percent of shrimp boat owners who haven’t returned to Gulf waters believe this equation doesn’t add up. Shrimping may no longer be worth it. Not until the reputation and demand for quality Louisiana seafood — which BP literally dragged through the mud and oil — is finally restored, will all the boats return to shrimping in Louisiana’s coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico.