JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — Powerful hurricanes like Laura, Delta, Zeta, and Ida didn’t just disrupt life in Louisiana; they were devastating to fishermen who rely on the Gulf to live.
A new report from the LSU Ag Center and Louisiana Fish and Wildlife show that the storms from August 2020 to August 2021 cost the commercial fishing industry an estimated $579.9 million.
Roughly $305 million of that number was from damage to infrastructure like vessels, caused mostly by wind.
It’s partially responsible for the rising cost of fresh seafood across the South. Vendors at the Westwego Shrimp Lot are noticing, and so are customers.
“The prices have been jumped a lot since last year,” said Mikayla Hebert, who works at Amy’s Seafood.
Across the lot, Derona “Dee” Melerine is seeing it too.
“Oh, big difference. Big, big difference,” Melerine said. “I want to say probably between fifty to seventy-five cents higher per pound,” she said.
While she’s stocked with shrimp, she says the economy as a whole has set the industry back. Across the Shrimp Lot, shrimp ranges from about five dollars to six dollars per pound, depending on the size.
“It’s [some items] just harder to get. And people just, they can’t afford it. They can’t afford to do it. The gas and everything is outweighing what they’re catching of the merchandise,” said Melerine.
“I’m hoping the price don’t jump again another quarter or two. I don’t think they will. But when you can’t get something, the almighty dollar plays a part.”
But the weather has paid a huge role, too. The study published by Wildlife and Fisheries includes 19 pages of survey replies from fishermen and those who work in the industry. They shed light on some of the dire and defeating circumstances. Many lost their homes and their businesses after Ida.
“I am unable to make any revenue from harvesting oysters. I been a Oyster fisherman for over 25 years and this is the worst I ever seen,” one writes in the survey.
Another writes, “I was recovering from Zeta repairing damage to boat and structure and along comes Ida. I'm done......”
A third says, “I lost approximately 230 crab traps for hurricane Ida in Lake Pontchartrain … At approximately $45 a piece for these traps, I will have a loss of $10,300 in equipment and was unable to fish for approximately 5 week - 6 weeks.”
There are countless examples of fishermen who said they weren’t able to get crab traps out of the water in time and lost most or all of their expensive traps.
It explains why some vendors, like Amy’s Seafood, are struggling to get crabs in stock.
“Right after the storm, a lot of them said they found a lot of trash. They was trying to move all the trash off their traps. A lot of them couldn’t even find their traps for the crabs, so it was a lot,” said Hebert.
In all, Laura, Delta, Zeta, and Ida cost the state’s 22 coastal parishes an estimated $155.3 million in revenue.
Months later, it’s trickling down to what Louisiana puts on the dinner table.
The report did not include studies of the storms’ impact on farm-raised animals like crawfish.