Gulf Fishing Family Hurting After Hurricane Laura Destroys Cameron, Wrecks Havoc on Surrounding Area

The eye of Hurricane Laura passes over Cameron, LA, home to the western Louisiana seafood fleet. Photo: NOAA

by Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News Editor

The Gulf fishing fleet docked at or near Cameron, LA bore the brunt of Hurricane Laura as it roared ashore in the early hours of August 27th as a category four storm. In one area alone, ten of the 15 shrimp boats tied-up sank to the bottom of Bayou Contraband after being ravaged by rough waters and constant winds gusting up to 135 mph.  The Gulf Seafood Foundation is calling upon government officials in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi for an immediate coordinated seafood specific disaster relief effort for fishermen, seafood processors and the extended seafood family.

Downed power lines and roads covered with debris has made it hard for recovery vehicles in the area. Photo: Rusty Randal

“We are calling upon both our state leaders and federal representatives to quickly get monetary help for our fishing communities,” said Raz Halli, president of the Gulf Seafood Foundation.  More than 120 miles of Gulf coastline was impacted by the storm, a coastline that is home a variety of commercial fishermen.  Even though Mississippi was not impacted by this storm, we are calling upon their representatives to join our effort because their fisheries still have not received compensation for the fresh water diversion that ravished their fisheries last year.”

Destruction and water are everywhere along the western Louisiana coast. Photo: Rusty Randol

Sitting a mere three feet above sea level, Cameron has been an epicenter for hurricanes.  In 2005 Hurricane Rita hit the city, home to just over 6000 residents, with winds clocked at more than 120 mph. Three years later Hurricane Ike leveled Cameron with a 12-foot storm surge.

“Hurricane Laura came ashore at the center of western Louisiana’s fishing community,” said Frank Randol, Gulf Seafood Foundation’s vice-president.  “The area is home to numerous shrimpers, crabbers, oystermen, and red snapper fishermen.   This storm has devastated not only the area’s industry, but also laid waste to our fishermen’s homes.  We need both state and national officials to come together quickly with seafood specific relief to help get their lives’ and livelihoods back on track.”

Wrecking Havoc

Pecan Island experienced winds of 90 mph. Marsh grass from the storm surge, often more than five feet in height, line the house of Billy Broussard of Pecan Island. Photo: Billy Broussard

Although Cameron was ground zero, the hurricane has wrecked havoc for the seafood industry from Pecan Island in Louisiana to Port Arthur in Texas.

“Here on Pecan Island we experienced winds of more than 90 mph and a storm surge of more than nine feet,” crabber Billy Broussard told Gulf Seafood News.  “We were very lucky, our house survived but our dock and sorting areas did sustained minor damages.”

Natalie Broussard stand in front of marsh grasses piles more than five feet high from the storm surge from Hurricane Laura. Photo: Billy Broussard.

More than six miles from the Gulf, Broussard’s house now sits surrounded by piles and piles of marsh grasses measuring more than five feet in height brought in by the storm surge.  He says the road to Cameron remains impassable and cell service has been spotty.

“Until this were having a pretty good year despite Covid,” said the crabber who operates a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sustainable crab fishery.  “The market was really good for the bigger crabs.  This has set us back, but I am going to get back in the water tomorrow and start laying my traps again.”

A little more than a hundred miles west in Port Arthur, Father Sinclair Oubre, a Texas board member of the Gulf Seafood Foundation and treasurer of the Port Arthur Area Shrimpers Association said that the area fishermen survived Laura in much better shape than they did Hurricane Harvey.

“We were very fortunate this time around,” said the Catholic diocesan priest.  “We were lucky that no vessels were lost or sank. Both Port Arthur and Sabine Pass failed to get a surge of water that was predicted. We have electricity is still down, and it might take a while for it be returned.”

The area around Big Lake suffered damage, including the camp of Gerald Gossen. Photo: Gerald Gossen

According to Father Sinclair, the local fishing community did not escape unscathed.   Three Port Arthur shrimpers succumbed to asphyxiation during the storm while using a generator to supply power; another six in the shelter were taken to hospital.

“One of the biggest lessons we have learned from this hurricane is that we have to have our shrimpers better prepared for storms,” he said. “Some of our boat captains waited till the last minute and then improperly docked their boats before waking away.  We have worked hard to improve the image of our fishermen, and we want them to be the best prepared along the Gulf coast.”

“Finding safe harbor for our commercial fishing boats during hurricanes has been challenging,” said Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United executive director Ryan Bradley.  “We need to states to designate safe harbors and build facilities to safely dock our fishing fleet.  Hurricanes continue to ravage the Gulf fishing fleet, we need our fishermen to be able to have safe harbors available so our boats will survive to fish another day.”

Destruction and Survival

For the western Louisiana seafood industry there was little that survived the wrath of Laura.

In Cameron fishing boats lay damaged or underwater.  Of the three seafood docks, two were completely destroyed.  Only one dock, the Cameron Parish fisheries facility, withstood the force of the hurricane.

The dock and seafood processing plant of Tommy’s Seafood in Cameron was the only one left standing was still standing after the hurricane passed. Photo provide by Chalin Delaune/Tommy’s Seafood

“I was amazed when I saw that the dock and seafood processing plant was still standing,” said Chalin Delaune, vice-president of New Orleans based Tommy’s Seafood which leases the facility.  “There was a little more than two-feet of water in the processing floor, and about five in the ice house.   All in all the majority of our equipment is in good shape.”

Delaune said he is unsure when his operation will be back up and running.  “It’s tough to navigate, down power lines and debris are covering the roads.  It is like driving through a maze trying to get around,” he said.  “The big questions are when will power return and what will be water quality, if we have water at all.”In another part of town, docks operated by Texas-based Prestige Oysters did not fair as well.

“It is just flat land,” said Raz Halli, vice-president at Prestige Oysters.  “The only thing we found close by is shipping container, and that was two blocks away.   We have no idea where anything else is, including a $40,000 electrical transformer we had specially installed.”

The Cameron water tower is among the few recognizable landmarks from the Louisiana parish after surviving Hurricane Laura. Photo: WXChasing/ Facebook

Both Halli and Delaune said many of their fishermen have lost not only their boats, but also their homes.  The Cameron seafood community provided not only shrimp and crab, but also landed flounder, oysters and red snapper.

“Our Gulf fishing family is suffering and we need some quick solutions to help them get back on their feet,” explained Halli.  “We need quick action by both state and federal agencies to get funds to the fishermen to replace boats, lost gears, homes, as well as feed their families.”

Some private agencies are already starting to provide assistance, even as far away as Mid-Atlantic States.  The North Carolina Fisheries Association is preparing a truck to be sent to the region that will contain ice, fish and other supplies for fishing families and business.  The agency is coordinating with the Gulf Seafood Foundation to arrange storage and help with distribution.

Doug Cross of Pamlico Packing suggested to NC Fisheries Association’s Executive Director, Glenn Skinner, that the group should organize relief efforts for the Gulf. The agency is in the process of coordinate the donations and work on the logistics of getting them to the Gulf.

There is a lot of work that needs to be done and fishing families are in need. Photo: Rusty Randol

True North Seafood has committed a tractor trailer to take relief items to Louisiana and will work with its Cooke-owned sister Company, Omega Protein, to coordinate distribution along with along with a truck from Clark Seafood in Pascagoula,” said Jerry Schill, director of Government Relations for The N.C. Fisheries Association. “We have heard there are long lines in the affected area for ice, and the people of Louisiana need ice and food and we want to help.”

“We have arranged with Charlie Hohost to have Acadiana Cold Storage, one of the largest cold storages in Lafayette, to handle all perishable donations” said Randol.  “This storm is a catastrophe, our Gulf fishing family is hurting.   We need our elected leaders to step up and quickly,” said Frank Randol.  “We need the support of not only the entire Gulf fishing community, but also the entire country.  Please lets make it right for these people in their time of need.”

Donate to Gulf Seafood Foundation’s “Helping Hands” 

To donate to the Gulf Seafood Foundation’ “Helping Hands” for Hurricane Laura please click the “Donate” button.

 

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About the Author

About the Author: Ed Lallo is the editor of Gulf Seafood News and CEO of Newsroom Ink, an online brand journalism agency. He is also owner of Lallo Photography based in Chapel Hill, NC. .

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  1. Douglas Olander says:

    Ed Lallo this is Douglas Olander with Big D,s Seafood out of the Port of West St.Mary. We had 9 foot of tital surge in the Vermilion bay area ,Iberia Parish and St.Mary Parish . We were lucky that we didn’t have as much damage as our colleagues to the west but we are experiencing major debris on our water bottom such as tons and tons of marsh grass,stumps ,trees and mud where over 90 percent of our fishing grounds impossible to fish 🐟, shrimp . Well over half the louisiana coastline has been destroyed by Laura. We got hit by hurricane Barry last year with 9 foot 2 inches of water then this storm at 9 foot with ZERO HELP FROM OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS. WE NEED HELP NOW . ALL OF US.

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