by Monica Skaggs/Louisiana Seafood News
No sooner had Clint Guidry and other Louisiana fishermen dug out from Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill than Hurricane Isaac tore into the southeastern coast, producing more destruction and one more round of cleanup.
The storm brought high winds of up to 100 mph, rain and a storm surge that flooded low-lying areas. While Isaac didn’t duplicate the devastation of Katrina seven years ago, it delivered a solid punch to fishing communities including Lafitte, Plaquemines Parish, Hopedale, Shell Beach and Delacroix.
As the waters recede, fishermen are again dealing with this setback with grit, determination and passion for their livelihood.
“Fishing is just something you grow up doing and it’s part of our culture here,” said Guidry, a third-generation Louisiana shrimper and fisherman. “My grandparents on both sides raised families in one-room trapping camps. We come from some pretty hardy people. You just clean up and go on.”
John Tesvich is a co-owner of AmeriPure Oyster and chairman of the Oyster Task Force. A resident of Empire in Plaquemines Parish, he said flooding affected highways that provide access to New Orleans. Residents were landlocked until water was pumped out of a section of Highway 23, while power to the lower end of the parish was off for 11 days.
Recovering from Isaac
Tesvich is determined to recover from this storm’s aftermath. He and others in this area contribute to Louisiana’s 30 percent share of the country’s domestic seafood industry in the lower 48 states. Despite the loss of production, the state continues to have 80 percent of its capacity and is filling the needs of all customers.
“We rebuilt after Katrina, when we had 17 feet of water in our area,” Tesvich said. “Luckily, this storm did not do that much damage. Docks were damaged and one got 10 feet of water. The storm surge was over the top of levees in some areas and in lower Plaquemines, the levees were close to capacity. It was a close call.”
Many think it will take weeks to get back to normal. The cleanup of hundreds of homes that sustained roof and flooding damage continues as power lines are restored. Locals are working to repair fleets, docks and other infrastructure in Plaquemines Parish and the surrounding area.
A large seafood processing plant in Lafitte was flooded and is now being repaired and sanitized. Fortunately, the Louisiana Fisheries Museum in that town was not damaged.
“We’re hoping we can get the fishermen back to work as soon as possible,” said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish. “We’re still pumping water and rescuing animals, including cows. Debris is 10 to 15 feet thick off the Mississippi River levee, so it’s a challenge.”
What Lies Ahead
As for seafood supplies, crab harvests suffered significant disruption. According to the Associated Press, shrimp and finfish disruption is moderate, and oyster production will be limited until October.
Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, is hopeful that shrimp, which are a burrowing species, will be ready for harvesting now that the storm has passed.
On average, crab fishermen lost 150 to 200 crab traps, which were smashed or washed out to sea, said Pete Gerica, president of Lake Pontchartrain Fishermen’s Association. The traps cost $40 each, he said.
Gerica, who lives between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Borgne, had 12 trailer loads of broken tree branches hauled away from his home. As for his livelihood, he lost 5,000 fishing hooks that he said will take a week to redo.
Still, he believes normalcy is slowly returning to the area.
“You can either say ‘poor me’ or move forward and make the best of it,” he said. “That kind of describes the way people think here. We try to get on with life. You can’t sit down and just think about it. You’ve got to move forward.”
Despite the loss of production, the enduring character of these communities continues.
“We’ll be back,” said Guidry. “Since 2005, we’ve had four major hurricanes and the largest oil disaster to hit the United States It’s like disaster central down here. It’ll take a little bit of catching up, but we’ll just suck it up and work a little harder.”
For Those In Need
Help for victims of Hurricane Isaac is available:
- Friends of the Fishermen was created as a way to help Louisiana’s fishermen in their greatest time of need.
- For updates on post-hurricane assistance, visit Plaquemines Parish.
- Residents in nine Louisiana parishes affected by Hurricane Isaac are eligible to receive housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
- Food assistance: People can apply online or call 1-888-LAHELPU.
- Tax relief for victims of Hurricane Isaac in Louisiana.