For years, shrimpers and fishermen in Cameron parish have complained water control structures aimed at keeping out saltwater ruin their livelihood.
They turned out in force for a meeting with government officials who they hope will hear their cries before they throw in the towel on what's been a way of life for many.
The shrimpers say water control structures on the east side of Calcasieu Lake are causing them to go out of business. In fact some have been arrested for illegal shrimping in areas off limits. The structures are supposed to keep out saltwater to prevent erosion and wetlands loss. but at a meeting in Creole shrimpers expressed their anger and frustration.
One woman shouted from the audience, "What started it all was the Ship Channel. Lake Charles reaped all the benefits and we get screwed every time they turn around. We get nothin' for their ships coming through here. All they do is erode our marsh, tear everything up and we get nothing!"
The meeting included local officials and agencies who are involved in efforts to maintain the wetlands for the good of all from hunters and trappers to cattleman, land owners, commercial fisherman and shrimpers. Some shrimpers want the structures taken out. One is Monroe Gray. "The shrimp come out on the bottom. You think shrimp jump over this thing? You're crazy! Admit you made a mistake and fix it!!The shrimp don't do that!"
But Assistant State Conservationist Britt Paul says taking them out would not serve the interests of all. "That's looking at the single interest of just the fisheries impact. And this whole watershed project was put in to address all the resource concerns in the project area. So, you have a lot of marsh area in that area that would be maintained by keeping salinity out and that provides a long term estuary for the shrimp and fish for the long term, not just for a near term."
Paul is with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. He explains the gates are closed periodically when salinity is so high it would kill vegetation. They're talking about a change in who operates the structures. Explains Paul, "Scott Henry with the Gravity Drainage number three had proposed for that drainage district to operate the structures. But they have to go through the process of getting through the bid process to be able to do that. Or if they want to do that on their own dime then that has to be discussed by the advisory committee and with the permitting agency which is the Corps of Engineers and none of that has happened yet."
Paul says they'll likely talk more about that at the next meeting.
Meanwhile, shrimpers like Gray say their industry is dying. "We're catching nothing in the channel, in the lake, we're catching nothing. The shrimp are there. They won't let 'em out. And we're starving to death," said Gray.
And he says it gets worse from year to year. The next meeting of the Cameron Creole Watershed Advisory Committee is expected to be scheduled within the next few weeks.