Oil Spill Kills Gulf Coast Shrimp Season: A Culture Hangs in the Balance
“This is the one thing that could destroy our culture and I don’t want to see it happen,” says Grand Isle, Louisiana resident Karen Hopkins, wiping at tears she’s clearly fighting. Hopkins, a Louisiana native and long-time resident of Grand Isle, runs the office at Dean Blanchard Seafood. Blanchard typically buys 13 to 15 million pounds of Gulf Coast shrimp annually. Hopkins’ house sits across from what should be a busy loading area for Dean Blanchard Seafood and no more than ten yards from a pier where boats that should be gearing up for a night out shrimping are coming in from a day skimming oil and changing oil-soaked boom.
It’s June 16th, in the midst of brown and inland shrimp season when Blanchard’s should be buying 400,000 to 500,000 pounds of shrimp a day. Most of the year’s catch comes in what’s typically a forty-five day season. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded just as the 2010 shrimp season was getting underway.
“Before the closures began, we took in about one-eighth, maybe one-tenth of what we should have,” Hopkins tells me. “But now we’re totally shut down. I should be working 80 to 120 hours a week this time of year,” she says. “But now I’m working on a no pay basis.”
In fact there’s so little work at Blanchard’s that Dean Blanchard, who’s a superstar in the Louisiana shrimp business – Louisiana provides most of the nation’s shrimp and roughly a quarter of the country’s commercial seafood – said when I stopped in, “I’m going in circles. I don’t know what to do with myself. I built all this over the last thirty years, and now for what?”
Grand Isle sits at the far southern end of the watery marshes and bayous that define Louisiana’s coast. Most houses are on stilts. There appears to be more water than land in this part of the state, and Louisiana’s fragile wetlands are eroding at a rate of 25 to 35 square miles a year. Water is front yard and back yard throughout bayou country, and working boats line the omnipresent waterfront. The roads down to the coast are lined with seafood shacks. Most sport handwritten signs advertising crabs, crawfish, and shrimp. Most are now closed.
In the summer swelter – the heat index hovers near 100
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