NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - People working in Louisiana’s seafood industry and their advocates hope Congress treats fishermen better when it passes the latest COVID-19 aid package.
The pandemic is crushing restaurants and by extension the local seafood industry.
Pete Gerica is a longtime commercial fisherman.
“Your in-town sales, your sales out of state and all that, everything is at a standstill basically,” said Gerica.
Because of rising cases of the deadly virus Louisiana restaurants have mandated capacity limits.
“Everything is at a standstill basically with everybody with 25, 45, 50 percent of their sales and all of the wholesalers and retailers that we deal with directly they’re all having a rough go of it just like we are,” Gerica stated.
Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser works with the seafood industry.
“When you’ve got the restaurant, industry shut down where 80 percent of their catch goes it’s going to be difficult,” said Nungesser.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans’ latest coronavirus relief package provides millions to help the fisheries and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, says Louisiana will share in that money if the legislation becomes law.
“There is going to be $500 million for fisheries that benefits the folks in Louisiana,” said Cassidy.
Cassidy told Louisiana news reporters he is aware of how the pandemic is adversely impacting Louisiana fishermen.
“If you’re a shrimper and you sell a large portion of your catch to restaurants and now restaurants are closed you’re sucking wind, you’re just not doing well,” said Cassidy.
Nungesser believes Louisiana fisheries did not receive sufficient financial help in the federal CARES Act which sent money to states earlier in the pandemic.
“No, you know, and after that money it was kind of like a drop in the bucket when we get $14 million and Alaska gets $50 million. I wrote all our congressional delegation and said this is not fair, we should get a larger portion than that,” said Nungesser.
He said any new federal aid must be fairer to Louisiana and its seafood industry.
“I applaud him, Sen. Cassidy’s listening to the fishermen, he sees the need, so that is a great ask for Congress and hopefully we’ll be able to get our fair-share of that $500 million and not get dealt a short hand like in the last pot of money,” said Nungesser.
Gerica commented on what he would like Congress to do to help fishermen.
“You need something that’s more going to be direct to help people survive in business. I mean, we’re going to open up the shrimp season probably in a week or so and we got small shrimp and small shrimp is something that’s used in restaurants, the stuff we don’t have buying stuff right now,” he said.
Louisiana’s fisheries have weathered Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill which sullied waters, negative effects of spillway openings and now the pandemic.
“You look at Katrina what happened it was just one location down trying to get that location up now it’s the whole universe,” Gerica said.
He believes he can hold on until times get better.
“We can hang in there because we do a little direct marketing, you know, and that helps. Any time you get a sale that’s a help, you know. What we did for a little while when it first went down is, we made home deliveries to some of old-line customers that we had,” Gerica stated.
Still he has cut back on how often he heads to open waters looking for catch.
“Absolutely, I mean there’s times I can’t go out because I ain’t got a sale,” said Gerica.
Nungesser is concerned some restaurants may not survive the impact of the pandemic.
“You know, my greatest fear is when we do open the doors to the world again we don’t have all those tools in our toolbox; those great restaurants that people come here for if they’re gone, that’s something that we don’t have to promote our great state,” said Nungesser.