‘Without us, you don’t have Louisiana:’ Struggling shrimpers warn lawmakers industry is on brink of collapse

Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 9:13 PM CST
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DELACROIX, La. (WVUE) - Louisiana’s shrimpers are pleading for help from federal lawmakers, warning that their industry and livelihoods are disappearing under tons of imported shrimp.

For longtime shrimp boat captain Kip Marquize, it’s a race against time.

“We are the heart of Louisiana. Without us, you don’t have Louisiana,” Marquize said as he navigated the channels out of Delacroix and deep into the bayous of St. Bernard Parish. “What I see is our whole state losing its identity on the world stage.”

Marquize has long been an advocate for his fellow Louisiana fishermen, going so far as to write a book titled “Death of a Fisherman.”

For a small business like his, Marquize said it has never been harder to make ends meet.

“To operate this boat, it’s costing me -- every three days -- $1,300 to $1,500,” he said. “On a boat this size -- say a 40-foot boat -- we’re losing, on average, $1,000 a day when we work.”

Rising diesel fuel and maintenance costs, inflation and falling local wholesale shrimp prices have greatly narrowed Marquize’s operating margins.

“That money gets turned back to the community, so that’s money being lost by the community,” he said. “When you lose $1,000 a day, you’re in your death throes.”

Marquize’s story is not unique among the shrimpers with whom Fox 8 has spoken. Many are struggling to stay on the water and considering whether they must ground their boats for good.

“I’ve seen us struggle. I’ve seen us thrive. I’ve seen the beauty of the land, and I’ve watched it disappear before my eyes,” Marquize said. “I’m not only watching my land disappear, I’m watching my industry disappear.”

The Louisiana Shrimp Association has held a series of “State of the Industry” meetings over the past two months, at which shrimpers from across southern Louisiana have rallied to draw attention to their plight.

The biggest challenge they face is the sheer mass of shrimp currently being imported by the United States.

“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 more than 2 billion pounds of shrimp will be imported into the United States this year, an amount that has been steadily rising year after year.

“The importers, they got so much coming in, they’re starting to buy infrastructure,” Cooper said. “They’re buying freezers. They’re trying to buy processing plants. When they do that, you’re pushing us completely out.

“We’re about to lose this industry.”

A 2019 Lee Zurik investigation found the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only tested 2 percent of the total seafood imported annually. More than 12 percent of imported 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.

“We’ve been begging and pleading for our politicians to back us against these imported shrimp, and they’ve turned a blind eye to it,” Marquize said. “Take your influence, and use it to help the people of your state.”

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