Shrimpers say vote against tariffs hurts

Local shrimpers are angry over the rejection of tariffs on imported shrimp, which they say are hurting their industry.

They say those imports, from places like China and Vietnam, often get subsidies as high as 50 percent making it tough for many to compete.

In Westwego, fresh from a Saints victory, Henry Shifflett has one more stop before he heads back to Arkansas.

"I have a son who's 27 and I asked him what would you like. He said bring me some shrimp," said Shifflett.

Shifflett heads to the Westwego seafood market where Rickey Lee follows a family tradition.

But Lee says it's getting tougher and tougher to make ends meet in an industry plagued by hurricanes, high fuel prices, and increased competition from importers.

"We used to have eight to ten thousand people do it," he said. "Now we have maybe three thousand people who stayed at it."

The industry had hoped that the International Trade Commission would impose tariffs on importers.

"If the government is going to pay you to farm it, and they can drop it in at a lower price, they can put the people here out of business," said seafood dealer Wayne Hebert.

But the commission has just killed a proposal to put tariffs on imports which now comprise about three quarters of the shrimp sold in the U.S. for about a dollar a pound cheaper.

But many say they only buy fresh.

Dealers say the tariffs could have been more useful than ever this year because the industry continues to suffer in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.

"It's one of the worst years I've seen in 20 or more," said Hebert. Statistics from National Marine Fisheries show that so far, this year's catch is just slightly below last year.

Because of a scarcity, they say shrimp are selling for about 40 percent more than last year.

"The oil spill affected everything...our crabs our shrimp and our oysters," said Lee.

Westwego customers had no problem paying a higher price for fresh gulf shrimp.

" This is fresh. Right off the boat," said Shiflett.

But unless something is done to level the playing field, local shrimper worry that they too may join thousands of others driven out of a business that's a Louisiana mainstay.

The trade commission says it will continue to fight for tariffs and is now meeting to discuss their next step.

The trade commission says it voted down tariffs which were temporarily put in place earlier this year because the industry failed to present enough evidence to show that imports have hurt the U.S. shrimp industry.