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Local shrimp and oyster industries feel effects of Gulf oil spill

By ALLISON MILES
May 14, 2010 at 12:14 a.m.

Mike Bordeaux grew up on a shrimp boat while helping his father's family business, so shrimping is in his blood. Bordeaux will begin 38 plus years as he prepares for another season on Saturday.

NO NEED TO WORRY?

Seafood on store shelves is safe to eat, said Clifford Hillman, president of Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Co.

Regulations and restrictions are in place at the local, state and national levels to keep people safe, he said.

Should the oil spill spread to where it might affect Texas waters, entities and companies will act accordingly, Hillman said.

The spill has already hurt many businesses in the seafood and sport fishing industries and, while the "fear factor" might be human nature, it's important to dispel rumors about risks, he said.

"This situation is bad enough," he said.

The late April blast that rocked a Gulf of Mexico oil rig spewed millions of gallons of crude into the water and spurred a large-scale effort to keep it from spreading.

The spill also has local repercussions.

Clifford Hillman's business, for instance, ground to a halt.

Hillman is president of Hillman Shrimp & Oyster Co., which operates plants in Port Lavaca and Dickinson. Although the company sources most products through Texas, the Lone Star State's oyster season ended April 1.

Oysters provide about 90 percent of the company's income, Hillman said. Currently, his 220-employee company depends solely on those from Louisiana.

"Because of that, we're pretty much at a standstill," he said. "We've already gone through some layoffs and that will continue."

Hillman isn't alone.

Jose Luis Cruz has worked in Port Lavaca's fishing and shrimping industry for 18 years and said he's never experienced anything like the recent oil slick. It keeps him and his coworkers docked, he said, and no one is certain when they'll go out again.

"Right now, they're saying maybe the 15th," he said. "But we have to wait for them to check the water."

On Monday, he busied himself around his boat, folding nets and performing basic maintenance. Waiting isn't always easy when a career is simultaneously on hold.

"I've got a lot of bills," Cruz said, shaking his head.

It's still too early to know the effect the spill will have on the state's shrimping industry, said Wilma Anderson, executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association. So far, she said, the industry has seen little to no effects.

"We'll just have to watch and see if it moves to the west," she said, adding Texas waters and certain areas up to Louisiana remain open. "But we're monitoring it daily."

Not every business is hurting from the situation.

The spill boosted business for Bowers Shrimp and Fish in Palacios, said Mike Hooper, the company's business manager.

Bowers farms its shrimp, rather than retrieving it from the Gulf. The law of supply and demand worked in the company's favor.

"Prices have kind of spiked," Hooper said, adding he couldn't offer an exact amount. "It's helped us out because we have some inventory."

Regardless, the situation isn't a good one, he said. It means hardships for many shrimpers.

"These guys work hard," Hooper said, "and it's a week-by-week business in this world."

As for Hillman, he said he isn't sure what to expect in the future. It depends on a variety of factors, such as how long the well flows, whether it creeps this way and the if the spill impacts the oyster beds' reproductive cycles.

He said he hopes the parties involved don't get tied up in years of litigation because the seafood companies might not make it.

"This is crippling to the industry," he said.

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