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Katrina to cost Louisiana fishing industry around 1.3 billion dollars
(AFP) Sep 09, 2005
by Marc Lavine

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, Sept 9 - Hurricane Katrina has likely slashed Louisiana's fishing industry in half, costing it around 1.3 billion dollars in retail revenues and devastating its fabled seafood crops, officials said Friday.

The deadly storm is likely to generate an immediate shortage of fresh oysters in US restaurants, as 99 percent of the harvest in the state, which provides one-third of all US oysters, is thought to have been wiped out.

"The effect of the hurricane on Louisiana's economy will be huge, and it will impact the US seafood industry as a whole," Dwight Landreneau, secretary of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told AFP.

"It will have an estimated impact of 1.3 or even 1.4 billion dollars on the fishing industry revenues, representing a loss of 40 to 45 percent to the state's commercial harvest," he said.

Louisiana's fishing industry, which accounts for about 30 percent of US seafood production and is famed for its shrimp, oyster and blue crab crops, generated 2.85 billion dollars in sales revenues in 2003, Landreneau said.

"This is a major part of the state economy and could have a significant impact on the entire country if shortages of seafood occur," he said.

Officials said the impact on US consumers would depend on at what stage of the species' harvesting cycle the hurricane hit, but they noted that oysters would be worst hit, as almost all of them were likely killed when the storm churned up the waters along Louisiana's Gulf Coast 11 days ago.

"We think there was something like a 99 percent mortality rate for oysters in the impact zone as a result of Hurricane Katrina," said the wildlife and fisheries department's deputy secretary, John Roussel.

"The retail sales loss for the oyster industry would be somewhere in the order of 296 million dollars over two years, because it takes that long for the beds to recover," he said.

Roussel said he expected immediate shortages of raw oysters to hit US restaurants, as they accounted for a large slice of all oysters consumed in the United States.

Louisiana is responsible for 40 percent of all US shrimp production -- but just 15 percent to 20 percent of US shrimp consumption -- as well as 35 percent of the US oyster crop and 30 percent of the blue crab crop, Roussel said.

Potential sales losses for Louisiana's shrimp industry over the next 12 months are expected to reach 539 million dollars, while those from blue crabs could be 81 million, and for saltwater fish, 79 million, he said.

Roussel stressed that the total impact of Katrina on the fishing and seafood industries was likely to be far higher than simply the retail cost, as fishing infrastructure and fleets had taken a hard hit, with entire ports shattered in the high winds.

"The impact of this hurricane is likely to produce one of the biggest economic hits to the fishing and seafood industries ever, simply because of Katrina's footprint, which was over a crucial part of the coast," he told AFP.

He warned that, because so many fishing communities had been totally displaced by the storm, the future of the industry in Louisiana hung in the balance.

Many fishermen were not insured, and the shrimp industry, which has high overhead, has been battling for some time. In addition, many fishermen may not return to the stricken zones, which could be closed to residents for months.

"Mother Nature might produce more shrimp, but I don't know if there's going to be anyone to catch them," he said.

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