Coastal Shrimp Industry is Struggling
27 April 2008
by Kim Gebbia
CALABASH — After three days of combing the Atlantic Ocean, one cooler of catch is all the crew of the Captain Nephi has to show for hours of sea-soaked labor.
Gas prices, cheap imports, environmental restrictions, and inconsistent catches all take a toll on shrimpers.
Tommy Leggetts, a third generation Calabash shrimper, has been selling North Carolina’s jumbo shrimp from a corner of a dock for 30 years.
A bucket of shrimp will put $300 in Leggett’s pocket, which is far from the $1,000 cost of gas to catch them.
For Craig Bennett, shrimping is a labor of love. He said nothing beats an ocean breeze and the sound of seagulls, but so far he’s tied up for the season.
“Really, honest, and truly, shrimp prices ought to be $8 a pound coming off the boat. If people knew what we had to go through to get them, what we had to spend to catch the little shrimp they want to buy,” said Bennett.
The cost of locally caught shrimp is so high that restaurant owners can’t afford to bring them into their own kitchens.
A busy lunch crowd at Nance’s Dockside Dining goes through more pounds of shrimp than the local shrimpers can keep up with, plus the cost of peeling, de-heading, and processing them.
Scott Baker with the North Carolina Marine Fisheries said Calabash shrimpers need to put a spin on their catch.
But for several others, a fresh marketing plan may not save an industry on the verge of sinking.
Leggett takes the handful of customers he can get, each pound on the scale keeps his career in tow.