Let Them Eat Shrimp — And Buy Them From the Gulf

Louisiana watermen are giving away 40,000 pounds of Gulf of Mexico shrimp to highlight the state of their industry.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

One of the many items still in the to-do box for Congress is relief for the Gulf state's fishing industry. U.S. shrimp boat operators have been on the losing end of a battle with imported shrimp, and Hurricane Katrina hurt them still more.

Well, now, as NPR's Peter Overby reports, they see a road trip to Washington as part of the solution to their problems.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

Lobbyists usually operate on Capitol Hill or sometimes in swanky restaurants, but at lunchtime Monday, the lobbying action is at the back of a big Ford pickup. It's carrying a box with 1,000 pounds of Louisiana shrimp. The shrimp's being scooped out and given away in Zip-Loc bags.

(Soundbite of shrimp give-away)

George Barasich (ph) has been working the waters at the Gulf for almost 40 years, so here he is at Dupont Circle across town from Capitol Hill, trying to save his livelihood. He's also president of the United Commercial Fishermen's Association, a group that's trying to save the whole Gulf Coast fishing industry. There's legislation pending in Congress that would help to bring back not just the fishing boats, but the onshore processing plants as well.

But right now, legislation is the secondary message. The primary message is free shrimp.

Mr. GEORGE BARASICH (Shrimper): There is plenty shrimp, but there's (unintelligible). We need the help. That's why we're up here trying to get that bill passed. We'll be here until they run out or until 2:00, one of the two. (unintelligible). I'm thinking about taking a bag and throwing it up on Mr. Bush's (unintelligible). I don't think he'd appreciate that.

OVERBY: Not everyone working on this is from Louisiana. Erica Hartman is the media coordinator for Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group, and she puts the fishermen's problems into the language of Washington, the language of the asks.

Mr. ERICA HARTMAN (Food and Water Watch): One of their asks is that they need better funding. After Hurricane Katrina, they feel like they have not been funded to the extent that they need to restore the operations that they had. Most of their infrastructure is gone, their icing facilities are gone, their processing facilities are gone after the hurricane, so there's millions of shrimp in the ocean for them to harvest, but they can't process it and get it to consumers here.

OVERBY: George Barasich came up in the truck with the 1,000 pounds of shrimp and four members of the Robin family from St. Bernard Parrish, Charlie Robin, his wife, his son and his mother. Charlie Robin's father died after Katrina wiped out everything he had. He hanged himself, his widow says. But now, Charlie Robin is standing on the tailgate. He's using a fishnet to scoop shrimp out of the big box and into coolers on the ground to be bagged.

Robin's nine-year-old son Gabe is standing next to him.

Mr. CHARLIE ROBIN (Resident of St. Bernard Parrish): Everybody's in the same boat. Everybody's trying to do the same thing, you know, survive, and do the things that we was brought up to do because I'm the fifth generation. This would be the sixth if it makes it.

OVERBY: And if they don't make it, Charlie Robin says maybe Gabe will grow up, run for office and help to bring the shrimp industry back to life.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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