Shrimpers claimed Wednesday that government regulators and big oil are unfairly blaming them for the increased number of dead turtles and dolphins, resulting in a continued poor national perception about Louisiana seafood.
That perception has led to low prices for this season’s shrimp catch, according to speakers at a State Capitol rally attended by about 250 shrimpers and their families. The Louisiana Shrimp Association wants help from government regulators and money from BP.
Dean Blanchard, who owns a seafood processing dock in Grand Isle, said blaming shrimpers for the dead sea life allows BP to shirk its responsibility. He called on a handful of state representatives, who were standing nearby, to press Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to sue BP as well as governmental regulators.
“Blaming shrimpers for turtle death is ludicrous,” Blanchard said.
The BP-operated Deepwater Horizon unit was drilling an exploratory well at the Macondo Prospect in about 5,000 feet of water.
On April 20, 2010, methane ignited causing the semi-submersible unit to explode and collapse. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over a three month period.
About 1.1 million gallons of chemical dispersants were sprayed into the water to break up the clumps of oil.
The federal government says BP, the British oil company, is responsible for the costs and losses.
Talk that shrimpers — rather than BP — are responsible for the turtle deaths has led marine law enforcement to more frequently stop shrimpers and board their trawlers looking for violations of regulations designed to protect sea life caught in shrimp nets, said Kendra Arnes, of Buras. But a review of the tickets shows most are minor violations, she said.
Chuc Nguyen, of Venice, said inland shrimpers, who fish the bays and inlets, pull their nets up every 30-to-40 minutes, which is not enough time to drown the turtles, he said.
Besides, he said, most of the turtles swim in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where the much larger trawlers keep their nets under water for three or four hours.
As an inland shrimper, Nguyen said his 28-foot boat uses nets that are too small to effectively trawl using turtle excluder devices. The procedures and equipment slow his ability to gather enough shrimp to pay expenses, he said.
“We’re starving out there. We can’t make ends meet,” Nguyen said. “Our government should step in and help out.”
Randy Varney, who drove up from Lafitte to join the protesters, said the price for small shrimp — about 70 shrimp per pound — has dropped from about 90 cents prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster to about 35 cents per pound now.
“I’m getting the same price I got when I was 17 years old and that’s like, what? 35, 40 years ago?” said Varney, who is 53.
These days diesel costs about $3.60 per gallon, which means about $240 for a 12-hour day, plus $120 for ice and pay for a deckhand, Varney said. He needs to catch at least 1,000 pounds of shrimp to break even, which is about as much as he usually fishes in a day, Varney said.
“If you don’t catch them fast and a lot, you lose money,” Varney said.