Since the beginning of May, Sylvia Nevarez said she, her husband Kyle Nevarez and their young son have lived off the savings they made in the oyster season.
“I put us on a strict budget,” said Nevarez, a lifelong Calhoun County resident.
Shrimping season arrived in May, but it didn’t bring renewed demand for Gulf shellfish. After restaurants began to close in March, demand for oysters tanked.
Some oyster harvesters were able to scrape through the season, but Nevarez said shrimp season has been even bleaker.
“After all these outbreaks we’ve been having, they’re probably going to start closing again,” she said of the restaurants that normally buy her husband’s shrimp. “Who wants to buy a plate of shrimp in a cardboard box?”
She said she’s encouraging her husband, a shrimper of 35 years, to begin considering alternate work.
Chelsea Bailey, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden, said many shrimpers have found a small market for live bait.
The market for bait fishing is lively enough that TPWD is still issuing a number of penalties for overfishing typical of what it’d see in a normal season, she said.
“That’s where all the money is right now,” Nevarez said, but she and her husband haven’t yet been able to break into a contract with someone who buys live bait.
Juan G. Muñoz and Juan Carlos Tovar have been able to find a local buyer for the live bait they’re fishing. They were the only two shrimpers at the Seadrift Dock Monday afternoon, when they said only about 20 boats were fishing in San Antonio Bay Monday.
Even they aren’t fishing everyday. Muñoz said they only are selling enough to fish about three days a week.
Although President Donald Trump signed an executive order in May to promote the domestic seafood industry, neither Bailey nor Nevarez said it has done anything to help the local industry in Seadrift.
Environmentalists, however, worry about the executive order’s effects on regulations protecting marine life from commercial fishing operations.
“It’s not even worth starting your boat,” Nevarez said, factoring in the costs of gas, the number of pounds they can sell and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department limitations on the number of bags that can be fished.
Christi Campos said her husband David Campos, another Seadrift shrimper, hasn’t taken his boat out once this season.
“They’re still working on the boat getting it up to par,” she said. “He’s been doing odd jobs.”
Nevarez has a background in shrimping. Her uncle was a commercial fisherman, and she’s served as her husband’s deck hand for the past five years.
Although she wouldn’t be happy about abandoning their way of life, Nevarez said she thinks it may be the only way forward through the uncertain future.
“We have a family now,” she said. “And the future is scary.”