Local fish stories differ by catcher, buyer
By JEAN L. KAESS
MORGAN CITY, La. — It’s a tale of two seasons locally — salesmen report having no problems finding seafood to sell, while shrimpers report having trouble catching shrimp.
Tuyet Tran on the St. Theresa, homeported at Morgan City, fishes from Cameron to Houma.
After Hurricane Isaac, she said, there was too much damage to catch shrimp. Now they can go out, but there is not enough shrimp to be caught. In fact, there are less shrimp than is usual for this time of year, but Tran said this is a normal occurrence after a hurricane.
Tran said, there is too much organic debris in the water, clogging the St. Theresa’s nets and making catching shrimp difficult.
Capt. Earl Aucoin of the Miss Janet, also homeported in Morgan City, agreed there is “a lot of trash” in the water — everything from wood and grass to cans, old nets and crab traps.
“I guess that storm got so bad it stirred up everything on the bottom … stuff gets caught up in the turtle shoots (turtle excluder devices) and you lose everything,” Aucoin said.
Aucoin said fuel prices combined with the low catch have caused him to tie up the Miss Janet for the foreseeable future.
“We’re pretty much out of circulation with the fuel so high,” he said, adding that the catch as well as the size of it is down this year.
On the other side of the sales process, both Rouses Supermarket in Morgan City and Patterson Seafood Market noted no noticeable problems in finding seafood to bring to consumers.
Rouses Seafood Manager Katherine Richardson said her vendors, which include local crabbers and shrimpers, have had no problems continuing to bring their catch to her at the volume she normally orders.
In addition, all finfish sales have been strong, she said.
At Patterson Seafood Market, Sean Stephenson said, “The local shrimp beds and hatcheries were stirred up a little, but there was no noticeable effect to any crabs.”
In contrast to local reports, the U.S. seafood catch reached a 17-year high last year, with all fishing regions of the country showing increases in both the volume and value of their harvests.
Commercial fishermen last year caught 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish valued at a record $5.3 billion, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s a 23 percent increase in catch by weight and a 17 percent increase in value over 2010.
Louisiana was second in catch volume and fourth in catch value, according to the NOAA report.
New Bedford, Mass., was the highest-valued port for the 12th straight year, due largely to its scallop fishery. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, was the No. 1 port for seafood volume for the 15th year in a row.
The increases are evidence that fish populations are rebuilding, said Sam Rauch, deputy assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.
Still, a number of fisheries are in trouble. The Department of Commerce has declared disasters for cod and other so-called groundfish in New England, oyster and blue crab fisheries in Mississippi, and chinook salmon in Alaska’s Yukon and Kuskokwin rivers.
“Overall nationally, the numbers are very good news,” Rauch said. “But we don’t want to miss the fact that there are parts of the industry that are or soon will be suffering economic pain.”
Alaska led all states by far in catch volume, with 5.4 billion pounds, followed by Louisiana, California, Virginia and Washington, according to the report. Alaska was also tops in the value of its catch, at $1.9 billion, followed by Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana and Washington.
Fishermen brought 706 million pounds of product to Dutch Harbor, the leading port by volume, while New Bedford, the top port by value, had $369 million worth of seafood cross its docks.
All nine of NOAA’s fishing regions saw the volume and value of their catches go up in 2011. The numbers nationally were boosted by sharp increases for Gulf of Mexico menhaden, Alaska pollock and Pacific hake, also known as whiting.
The report also showed that Americans ate an average of 15 pounds of seafood per person in 2011, down from 15.8 pounds in 2010.
About 91 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. was imported, up from 86 percent in 2010. A portion of the imported seafood, however, was caught by U.S. fishermen, exported to other countries for processing then imported back into the U.S.
Additional reporting from The Associated Press.