- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

CHALMETTE, La. (AP) — Ray Brandhurst toils alone on his shrimp boat until the New Orleans skyscrapers looming in the west turn on the lights for another restless night.

All around, nothing is right.

Ever since Hurricane Katrina sank his boat, he has been trying to get back to work. Across this battered landscape where all the roads cross bayous, Mr. Brandhurst and other fishermen are trying to get their lives on track by getting their boats back into the water.

Each day brings more traffic to the once-busy bayous as crabbers, oystermen, catfishermen, shrimpers and sport fishermen slowly return. But it’s still awfully quiet in the nation’s second-largest fishery.

Mr. Brandhurst, 45, straightens his back and pops another menthol cigarette into his mouth.

“I wish I’d wake up and say this is a bad dream,” he said.

His home and seafood business are gone, flooded out, and his only chance of salvaging the life he had before Katrina lies in overhauling the bits and pieces of his shrimp boat’s engine and wiring.

The boat, which he built with his own hands five years ago, had to be retrieved by a crane from 8 feet of water in the nearby bayou.

The marina where Mr. Brandhurst toils is motionless. All around, boats still are twisted and sunk, beached and broken. The owners are nowhere to be seen, or too broke to do what Mr. Brandhurst is doing: spending what cash he has to get his boat back in the race for shrimp.

“It’s sad,” Mr. Brandhurst says. “This is a hardworking group of Americans, and for the first time in my life I’m getting food stamps and an unemployment check. You know what unemployment pays? Ninety-eight dollars a week. That doesn’t put fuel in my truck.”

The shrimper, the backbone of Louisiana’s fishing industry, is inseparable from his boat. Many shrimpers live on them with their families through much of the year. Children have been born on them; the holidays are spent aboard them. Often, the boats are named after the women in shrimpers’ lives.

“The boat is basically more important to them than their home,” says Lawrence Palmisano, a boat salesman in Marrero, a suburb of New Orleans.

“Some of them have spent their lives on the boat and love the profession and would not care for anything else,” says Walter Keithley, an associate professor at Louisiana State University’s Coastal Fisheries Institute. “It’s a fisherman’s platform for harvesting, and without a boat they wouldn’t make any revenues.”

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