Shrimpfest reunites former compatriots of Seadrift's fading shrimp industry


June 12, 2010 at 1:12 a.m.

SEADRIFT - Shrimp kabobs, shrimp dogs, shrimp balls, shrimp cocktail, fried shrimp, Cajun shrimp, shrimp on the stick, shrimp po-boys.

Enough shrimp entrees were on hand at Saturday's Shrimpfest to satisfy even the palate of Pvt. Bubba Blue, the fictional shrimping partner of Forrest Gump in the 1994 movie of the same name.

But some say the annual homage to shrimp has lost a bit of its original flavor since the shrimping industry in Seadrift began fading in the 1990s.

"Shrimp used to support this town," former shrimper and current plant worker Bryan Rudd said. "Now it doesn't."

Monte Moncrief Sr. left the business 10 years ago when shrimp farming drove down the price of shrimp and diesel fuel became more expensive, he said.

"I went into the oil field because that's where the money is," Moncrief said. "But my blood is still in the saltwater."

The San Antonio Bayfront was rife with Seadrifters casting their rods to fish, but few boats were docked where 30 years ago the bay would be full of decorated vessels for the blessing of the fleet.

Shrimpfest began in 1980 as an initiative of the Families Involved in Seafood Harvest, or FISH, to raise money for a legal battle against state government regulations on the industry in which many residents here once made a living.

They were also looking to raise awareness about what would become a plight of area fishermen if the legislation were passed, Janie Waghorne, one of the original organizers of the event, said.

So what started out as a political struggle actually laid the foundation for a Seadrift tradition, even though boiled seafood dinners at the festival are a thing of the past, said Ben Plummer, also a former shrimper.

Shrimping was a part of Plummer's family for five generations. He began his shrimping career as a teenager and exited 20 years ago, he said.

"It was a good way of life until we got regulated out of business," he said.

He said after the legislation passed, shrimp licenses became more restricted. This was done to manage effects to the ecosystem and economy of the industry, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's website.

Across the Gulf, shrimpers in Louisiana are coping with ecosystem issues of their own, caused by the sprawling oil slick that has coated its coastal marshes with oil.

Plummer said shrimpers in Texas are actually profiting right now from the spill. As the bays and estuaries in Louisiana have closed to shrimping because of the spill, the value of shrimp has increased.

"They're getting more now than what they had in previous years," he said. "I'm sure that's directly related to the oil in Louisiana because they're not catching any shrimp out there."

The Texas coastline isn't as at risk as those of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, but Plummer's friends in the industry could see the effects if it does reach here.

"It would definitely be a big impact if it swings this way," he said.



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