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Gulf receives $150M in hurricane relief

Aleutian Spray Fisheries of Seattle gave Biloxi
    fishermen an icemaker.

July 01, 2006

The Gulf Coast seafood industry will receive $150 million in federal aid as part of a $94.5 billion war and hurricane-relief spending bill passed by Congress last month.

It comes 10-plus months after Hurricane 
Katrina devastated the region.

But money allocated for rebuilding the Gulf seafood industry is a far cry from the roughly $1.1 billion Sen. Richard Shelby, 
R-Ala., initially sought.

"It's a good start," says Mike Voisin, VP of Motivatit Seafoods, a Houma, La., oyster processor. "We're grateful. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and the administration" to garner additional support.

Of the $150 million, $90 million is allocated for restoring and reseeding oyster beds and shrimp grounds, and $20 million for removing debris and wreckage along the coastline. Voisin says rebuilding the industry's infrastructure - refloating boats, repairing docks, hatcheries and processing facilities and rehabilitating oyster beds and shrimp grounds - is the No. 1 concern.

The money will be distributed by the five Gulf Coast states, adds Voisin.

Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will get $20 million to rebuild its Pascagoula, Miss., fisheries lab and $12 million to improve its hurricane-damage reporting capabilities.

In total, the Gulf Coast will receive about $20 billion in hurricane relief. The remaining $74.5 billion in the spending bill will fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the effort to combat avian influenza, or bird flu.

Private contributors are also helping the Gulf seafood industry. Through the Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission, Aleutian Spray Fisheries, a Seattle seafood processor, in early June donated an ice-making machine to the Biloxi, Miss., public docks, where some 100 shrimp boats unload their catches.

The Shell Group, one of the world's largest oil companies, has contributed $500,000 so far, adds Voisin.

Despite a turbulent 2005 hurricane season and ailing 
infrastructure, Louisiana's shrimp landings have rebounded. And this year, the state is expected to yield 55 to 60 percent of its usual 250-million-pound (in-shell) oyster harvest (see Market Report, p. 15).

Still, the Gulf seafood industry is struggling to find workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45 percent of the region's residents hadn't returned as of March.

Motivatit Seafoods was forced for the first time to employ foreign workers in its processing plant using temporary H-2B visas.

"The labor issue has been real challenging for us," says Voisin. - Steven Hedlund

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