Business Melts Away For Gulf Coast Icehouses Along the Gulf Coast, shrimpers and fishermen are losing work, as well as the companies that support them. Icehouses are among the many businesses being affected by the oil spill.

Business Melts Away For Gulf Coast Icehouses

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In addition to worry, there's also plenty of heat in Louisiana. The heat index is expected to be over a hundred degrees in much of the state by this afternoon. This being the height of the fishing season, that should mean big sales of ice. But this year, not so.

As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, ice houses are watching their business melt away.

(Soundbite of water)

YUKI NOGUCHI: A bayou snakes along this flat, humid stretch of road in Dulac, Louisiana. Five miles from here, the waterway connects to the Gulf of Mexico. This area is a staging ground for oil companies like Halliburton and Conoco. And its home to seafood processors and ice houses like Huey Ice Company.

Mr. MARTY THERIOT (Owner, Huey Ice Company): You can come in. oh, lordy -

NOGUCHI: That's right.

Mr. THERIOT: Im Marty Theriot.

NOGUCHI: Nice to meet you.

Mr. THERIOT: All right.

NOGUCHI: Theriot's office looks like a relic. There are swimsuit calendars from the 1990s on the wall, and framed photos are warped from heat and age.

Mr. THERIOT: That's my father-in-law. See him right there?

NOGUCHI: Uh-huh.

Mr. THERIOT: That's my father-in-law. He's the owner, Huey.

NOGUCHI: For 35 years, this has been a family-owned and operated business. Adjacent to the office, there's a giant refrigeration room at least 30 feet tall.

(Soundbite of hammering)

Mr. THERIOT: This is the big storage bin. I usually have it all the way to the top.

NOGUCHI: And it's, right now, about 4 feet tall.

Mr. THERIOT: Yeah. I'm making as - less as possible. Trying to save money. Just make a little bit of ice during the day, so I can sell it to my boat, so I can keep my doors open. You see, it just made a batch of ice.

NOGUCHI: This year, the Monday after Mother's Day was supposed to mark the start of Theriot's busiest season.

Mr. THERIOT: Well, we worked all day Saturday. So, we get here in the morning at 7 o'clock to open up, and I get a telephone call. And it said it just closed, the shrimp season, because there's oil coming into the coast.

NOGUCHI: Instantly, 90 percent of Theriot's customers stopped fishing and therefore, buying ice.

Mr. THERIOT: When shrimping is good, we don't have - no oil in the water, this plant is run 24 hours a day, seven days a week - never stops.

NOGUCHI: So in a day, how much ice would you normally make?

Mr. THERIOT: During the day, 24 hours, about 300-something blocks, and that's 300 pounds per block.

NOGUCHI: So really, that's like...

Mr. THERIOT: Ninety thousand pounds of ice a day.

NOGUCHI: And right now, you're like...

Mr. THERIOT: Hardly none, hardly none.

NOGUCHI: He filed for compensation from BP but has not heard back.

Back outside, the waters are quiet. Dozens of boats idle at their docks on the bayou.

Mr. THERIOT: If the shrimpers go down, we going down with them. Everyone down here, from the processors to the shrimp buyers, we all work hand-in-hand. If the guys do not go get shrimp - or fish or oysters or crabs - we all go down together.

NOGUCHI: Just then, a customer, James Laughlin, pulls up in his shrimping boat - not for ice, but to buy gas.

Mr. THERIOT: We got the gas, Mr. James.

Mr. JAMES LAUGHLIN: That's good, that's good, buddy.

NOGUCHI: Inside the office, Matthew Champagne, Theriot's nephew who hopes to take over the business someday, collects Laughlin's payment.

Mr. LAUGHLIN: They used to give us credit, but they don't give us credit no more.

NOGUCHI: Why?

Mr. LAUGHLIN: Because they can't take a chance.

Mr. THERIOT: Can't take a chance.

Mr. LAUGHLIN: When they - you see, they shut down and we ain't making no more money, we ain't going to come pay the bill. We're going to use that to eat instead of coming to pay for our bill.

Mr. MATTHEW CHAMPAGNE: All right. Thank you.

Mr. LAUGHLIN: See y'all later. You have a good day.

NOGUCHI: A half mile down from Huey's, I come upon another ice house. I'm at Anchor Ice and Fuel.

(Soundbite of knocking)

NOGUCHI: No one seems to be around. But there's a big truck and a boat docked here.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

NOGUCHI: I'm Yuki.

Mr. DREW SAWYER (Captain): I'm Drew Sawyer. I'm the captain and owner of that boat there.

NOGUCHI: So you're not here to get ice?

Mr. SAWYER: No, unh-unh. He lets us tie up here, the owner. Yeah, they closed this down. They haven't been open in a month. Might have been longer than a month. They were working on it. You can see where they painted everything, you know, and just did their spring cleaning and all. But the oil got them, I guess.

NOGUCHI: Sawyer says he's headed to the western waters of Texas, where he can still shrimp. He's says he's not sure when he'll be back to shrimp in these waters.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, in Dulac, Louisiana.

(Soundbite of music)

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