Gulf Shrimpers Worry Cleanup Will Hurt Season Hauling away debris that Hurricane Katrina dumped into the Gulf of Mexico seems like a good step — and perhaps an overdue one. But shrimpers and fishermen along the Mississippi Gulf Coast are worried that their shrimp season will be destroyed by the cleanup.
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Gulf Shrimpers Worry Cleanup Will Hurt Season

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Gulf Shrimpers Worry Cleanup Will Hurt Season

Gulf Shrimpers Worry Cleanup Will Hurt Season

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Farther along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, shrimpers and fishermen are angry about government plans to haul debris from Katrina out of the water. They say more local fishermen should do the work, and they worry their shrimp season will be destroyed by the cleanup.

It's a U.S. Coast Guard contract, the second phase of cleanup to haul in debris from water up for four miles from shore. Franklin Parker is a shrimper and captain of the Fair Maiden in Biloxi. He says the contract to trawl for debris will go into effect at the worst possible time.

Mr. FRANKLIN PARKER (Shrimper): The contract's supposed to start next week, and this time of year in the springtime is when all of our juvenile shrimp move into the area and the state traditionally closes all of this water and denies us as commercial shrimpers to dragging these waters until the shrimp reach a harvestable size, which is 68 shrimp to the pound.

So what we're afraid of is while the small juvenile shrimp are in the area that the nets that will be drug for the debris will raise the stress level of the juvenile shrimp, thus increasing their mortality rate.

BLOCK: Would you suggest, then, that the trawling be delayed until after the prime season starts?

Mr. PARKER: Oh definitely. I would suggest that it be postponed at least until the shrimp season is over.

BLOCK: When would shrimp season be over?

Mr. PARKER: December 31.

BLOCK: Well, there's also a lot of anger about the numbers of local boats, local fishermen being used. Why should local people get the work?

Mr. PARKER: Well, our local legislators, our senators and congressman, have fought tooth and nail to, you know, to get all this money that the federal government is going to give us. If our congressman and senators fought for this money for the state of Mississippi, the money should stay in the state of Mississippi.

You know, during phase one, I couldn't even drive down a highway because my blood pressure would get so high because here I am going down to the beach, seeing all these out-of-town boats from Alabama over here dragging in our waters while I'm sitting idle at the dock because the shrimp season's closed. I can't go to work because I've got to fix the house so my family can live in it, you know. And when they announced this, that they were going to award it to an out-of-state contractor, or more out-of-state boats was coming in, it was pretty much the straw that broke the camel's back.

BLOCK: Well, I guess the state is saying that their hands are really tied on this. It's a federal contract with the Coast Guard, and the way it's written it just says at least 15 percent of the work has to go to the...

Mr. PARKER: You're absolutely right. The state has done a wonderful job supporting us. Because the way I guess the proposal was written up was 15 percent, well, they hired a local contractor who's from Pass Christian, Mississippi. He does employ 95 percent local contractors, but that's like dump-truck drivers, flag-wavers, crane operators, but all the vessels they use are from Alabama.

We don't get to clean up our own waters, and last year during shrimp season, the few boats that did make it, we had to go out there and clean up the waters ourselves. And myself, personally, probably lost I'd say $12,000 to $15,000 worth of equipment on obstructions that were from Hurricane Katrina. refrigerators, washing machines, things like this, you know, and it would just tear up a net, and every net we lose is $800, $900.

BLOCK: Well, there's a threat now from some of your fellow fishermen that to get their boats out on the water when the cleanup starts and basically run a blockade, stop the trawling for debris. Do you think that's going to happen?

Mr. PARKER: I mean, me personally, I don't advocate that, you know. There are guys out there that, you know, I can't speak for. But they are very adamant in - when you back that dog in the corner, eventually he's going to fight to get his way out. You know, a lot of these guys feel like they don't have nothing to do, you know? It's either fight or die.

BLOCK: Well Mr. Parker, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. PARKER: Thank you.

BLOCK: Franklin Parker is a shrimper from Biloxi, Mississippi. He's captain of the Fair Maiden.

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