By Veronica Del Bianco
Although they remain open, seafood industry businesses – like Mariah Jade Shrimp Company, New Orleans Fish House, and Pontchartrain Blue Crab Inc. – are financially hurting as a result of the BP oil spill; but unlike their competitors that closed, they aren’t being compensated by BP.
Pontchartrain Blue Crab Inc. has operated in the red for more than a month.
“We refuse to close because we are trying to be there when this turns around,” says owner Gary Bauer. “What we are afraid of is that we’re going to be penalized. Many of our competitors closed their doors for good and they’re receiving benefits… We [business that remain open] have gotten minimal or no benefits whatsoever.”
Complicated tax codes have been blamed for some of the delay but business owners say that the staff turnover and closed door policies of BP claims centers are magnifying the problem.
“I am on BP claims adjuster number seven and I don’t even remember his name,” says Bauer. “Granted they were all nice, but when you have to start from square one with seven different people I don’t think you’re making any progress.”
Craig Borges agrees that the BP claims office needs to be refined for business that have remained open despite the devastation caused by millions of galloons of oil entering the Gulf. Borges is one of the owners of the New Orleans Fish House, a Louisiana and Gulf Coast seafood distributor with more than 1500 hotel, restaurant, and retail customers in the region.
“Our business was built on Louisiana indigenous seafood,” says Borges. “Because of the oil spill, we are not getting enough to supply our customers.”
As a result, the New Orleans Fish House is now importing oysters from Oregon, snapper from Costa Rica, and salmon from Chile and Canada to fulfill their customers needs. For the moment, the increased expense is worth it in order to keep their customers, but the decrease in profit margin is hurting their bottom line. If assets, like trucks or processing plants, are sold to stay afloat Borges wants compensation for those losses.
Kimberly Chavin of Mariah Jade Shrimp Company also feels she is being penalized for money that she invested in her business. Earlier this year, before the oil disaster, the company had completed building its shrimp processing plant.
Chavin made her claim in mid-May, asking BP for gross income instead of net income to offset some of her significant losses. She has not yet received any money from BP.
“We had a niche market. We were going to do a lot of hand peeled product. When I told my claims adjuster that, his answer was ‘oh well’,” says a clearly frustrated Chavin. “I am sitting here with a new processing plant, I don’t have the shrimp to process at this point, and they [BP] are acting like it has nothing to do with them.”
The Mariah Jade Shrimp Company and other businesses that have have remained open throughout the oil spill disaster – hoping to survive the ordeal without losing employees or customers – do not think it is fair that they have received little or no financial compensation from BP. Businesses should not have to completely close their doors in order to get BP to open its wallet.