In August the small fishing community of Cocodrie in Terrebonne Parish was ravaged by Hurricane Ida.

The Category 4 hurricane tore through homes, capsized boats and destroyed fishing equipment. The village's ice factories and processing plants were flattened, and the livelihoods of many residents were upended.

Nearly a year later, the residents there and other fishing villages along the coast have yet to fully recover. Record high fuel costs and low shrimp prices are making that recovery even more difficult.

Darrell Domangue, 56, has been living in Cocodrie all his life and shrimping is all he has ever known. However, with shrimp going for 75 cents to $1 per pound and the cost of fuel increasing, he wonders if he will be able to pay back the $105,000 he borrowed to buy a new boat.

The average price per gallon for diesel in Louisiana is now at $5.37, up from $2.91 a year ago, AAA data shows. 

ACA.shrimpers.adv.701.jpg

Crab traps and shrimp boats along Bayou Petit Gaillou on Highway 56 Monday, May 30, 2022 in Chauvin, La..

“We don’t get nothing for our product," he said. "All our money goes back into expenses.”

The price of shrimp has remained low, and Domangue said he sees no price increase in the immediate future. He said he wishes commercial fisherman would work in solidarity to fight price drops.

“The fisherman don’t stick together," he said. "If we were to stick together, we could put a set price or just leave the boats tied up."

Along the Gulf Coast, reported shrimp catches were way down in 2021. In December, only 4.4 million pounds were landed, the lowest total for any December for at least 22 years, according to the Fishery Monitoring Branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center.

For the year, catches totaled 72.8 million pounds, slightly higher than 2020 but well below the average of 120 million pounds in 2000. In Louisiana, December landings were 62% below historical average. 

Large fishing vessels owned by the docks flood the markets to drive down prices, hurting family-owned businesses, Domangue said. The large boat essentially sells the shrimp to themselves at competitive prices that no other fisherman could afford.

Depressed prices along with the cost of rebuilding after the hurricane has led some to leave Cocodrie for a better opportunity, said shrimper and crabber Kimothy Guy.

“I’ve been living here 54 years," Guy said. "I’ve never seen something as bad as this. Most of the people that got messed up with houses, a bunch of them, they’re not even coming back. Everybody just moved away or getting out of business.”

ACA.shrimpers.adv.435.jpg

The shrimp boat Mia Rose passes a sunken boat in Bayou Petit Gaillou after shrimper Darrell Domingue off loaded his catch at the processing plant on Monday, May 30, 2022 in Chauvin, La..

Backups at the shrimp and processing plants have also pushed down the prices, Guy said. A local processing plant works on a first-come, first-served basis, and after 25,000 pounds of shrimp are unloaded, they close for a day until they can finish processing.

C'est Tout

The top story in Acadiana in your inbox daily. You're busy - This is all you need to read

Many of the nearby factories were destroyed by Ida, Guy said. Processing that happened in Louisiana is now being done in Mississippi or Alabama.

The headaches do not end at processing. Everyday expenses for boats have increased as well, Guy said. During Ida, Guy lost 500 crab traps. Before the hurricane, the price of a trap hovered around $30. Now it's $60 a trap.

“Everything that we go to buy for our boat, all cost is outrageous," Guy said. "But the price of the shrimp doesn’t go up. The price always goes down.”

Guy’s home and boat were also destroyed during the hurricane. After replacing nets, generators, electronics, patching holes, he’s looking at a $75,000 bill.

“You looking at a $10,000 to $15,000 in a week’s work, but you can’t catch enough shrimp to pay for no $15,000 to $20,000 bill,” Guy said. "

Even those who work on large vessels are barely making ends meet, Guy said. “They work 15, 20, 30 days at a time and they come home and they look at their check and you get but $1,100 in a month.”

The industry near Delcambre was less affected by Ida, Wendell Verret, port director of Twin Parish Port Commission, said. After Ida, processing plants remained operational, and fishing fleets were able to continue doing their jobs.

ACA.shrimpers.adv.672.jpg

Shrimper Kim Guy stands on the deck of his damaged shrimp boat which her road out Hurricane Ida at his home on Highway 56 on Monday, May 30, 2022 in Chauvin, La..

“We missed the bullseye on that storm,” Verret said. “On the east side of the state, the storm certainly affected that industry and we’re very concerned about their future.”

The biggest issue Verret faced last year was too much fresh water coming from the Mississippi River. The freshwater killed a lot of the shrimp population, he noted, which led to low catches. Despite the storm and the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry prevailed by adapting their usual farmers market to car lineups to buy shrimp.

The issue that affects the industry most is importing from overseas, Verret said. The less regulated international fishing industry can sell to Americans at competitive prices that local fishermen cannot match. This is caused by lax food and health regulations, permits and minimum wage laws, Verret said.

“We just need a fairer arrangement," Verret said. "Why do we have to take this precaution to protect the public yet these imports can come in just hardly no protection at all?”

Verret said the best way for consumers to help the industry is to make sure that Louisiana residents are only buying local products and for restaurants to only buy seafood from Louisiana. This would ensure that local fishermen are supported and compete with international or out-of-state companies.

For many of these Louisiana shrimpers, there is no other option. There is no looking for new jobs. They grew up on fishing boats. They learned from their fathers and grandfathers. Maybe after villages like Cocodrie fully recover, the industry will bounce back, but that may be awhile.

“I’ve worked all my life for what I got," Domangue said. "I’m going to try to protect it.”