First La. Shrimping Season Since Gulf Spill Begins

The first shrimping season since the start of the Gulf oil spill began this week in Louisiana. NPR's Michele Norris talks to Acy Cooper, the owner of the commercial shrimper the Lacey Kay and vice president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, about his catch.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The first shrimp catch since the start of the Gulf oil spill is now in and headed to market. Acy Cooper is the owner of the commercial shrimper the Lacey Kay. He's also the vice president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association and we've spoken to him a number of times in the past. We caught up with him at his home, where he'd just got off his boat and was working on some nets. Welcome back to the program.

Mr. ACY COOPER (Owner, Lacey Kay; Vice President, Louisiana Shrimpers Association): Thank you. Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: How did it feel to be back out on the water and shrimping again?

Mr. COOPER: Oh, it feels good. It's something that you don't forget and you really like to be out there. So it feels really good.

NORRIS: How was the catch?

Mr. COOPER: It was poor. We don't know what happened, the shrimp wasn't as plentiful as we thought there was. We had more fish than we had shrimp, so it wasn't what we anticipated.

NORRIS: What was it like for you as you went through this process of getting your nets together, getting your crew together, heading out onto the open water. Help me understand what that must've been like after so many months off the water.

Mr. COOPER: Well, it's a lot of process. I am working for BP. So we had to start from scratch, put everything back on and, get on their treading. Put all the ice box and get ice and fuel and it was a process that we normally go through at this time of the year. Well, at the beginning of the year. This time of the year we'd be already doing it. But it's a big process and it was time to go. Its time for all of us to go back to work, but we just don't have the area open at this time.

NORRIS: So, the first catch, help me understand how you actually bring shrimp in 'cause I'm betting a lot of our listeners eat shrimp, enjoy shrimp, but don't know a whole lot about the process.

Mr. COOPER: Well, what we use is skimmers, 16-foot out and 12-foot deep. And then we use a heavy weight on inside and what it does, the heavy weight drags this net to the bottom and then we have a (unintelligible) chain, we call it. It drags in front of the net and it makes the shrimp jump up and then when the shrimp jump up, the net sweeps behind and picks them up. It's kind of like a vacuum vacuuming the water out or sucking the bottom up and sweeping it up. And we just push around the bay until we find them.

NORRIS: You know, there were concerns that the oil, which has dissipated, though, would sink, that there might be a different story to be told well beneath the surface. Do the shrimp help tell that story?

Mr. COOPER: Yes, ma'am. Well, let me go to last Friday and the day they let me go, found oil on the bottom in the same areas that I was working at - which I worked at too much and never even seen this oil. So we have a lot of areas like that.

When they sunk this oil, the Coast Guard kept saying it's a tradeoff. And, like, we screamed and hollered from the beginning that the only tradeoff it is is to lose our industry. So we got to be very careful when you're talking about all gone. It's not gone, they just sunk it.

NORRIS: So, what does this mean for the bounty of seafood that you pull out of the ocean? What does that mean for the shrimp and the oysters and the crabs, which often live near the bottom of the ocean?

Mr. COOPER: We dont know what's going to happen. Nobody can tell us what's going to happen in the future. Look, this is the largest oil spill in history. We had little spills in the area it took eight to 10 months just clean up the top they never sunk it. So with all this oil, NOAA says 75 percent gone, come on now, it's gone all right. It's out of sight out of mind.

NORRIS: Acy Cooper, I have to ask you about the shrimp that you pulled out of the water today. Will those shrimp make their way to your table or to somebody's table? Are they safe to eat?

Mr. COOPER: Yes, ma'am, I took some home and I ate them personally and I can guarantee that they are good. And that's what we all need to make sure of. All it's going to take is one batch of bad shrimp to get in there, we may never ever sell another shrimp for 10, 12 years. And I can't afford for that to happen.

NORRIS: Acy Cooper, good to talk to you again. You take care.

Mr. COOPER: Yeah, thank you.

NORRIS: That's Acy Cooper. He's the owner of the commercial shrimper the Lacey Kay. He's also the vice president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association.

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