- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

While everyone else worried about high gasoline prices as a result of Hurricane Katrina this week, Peter Finkhauser was thinking about shrimp.

“The Mexican Gulf is a major supplier of shrimp,” said Mr. Finkhauser, owner of Louisiana Express, a Cajun restaurant in Bethesda.

The Gulf Coast is a primary source for the nation’s shrimp. Smaller amounts of crabs, oysters and redfish also come from the waters off Louisiana.

The high winds and tides that devastated coastal communities also shut down the Gulf Coast fishing industry.

“I’m sure we’re going to feel the effect,” Mr. Finkhauser said about his restaurant.

The storm surge caused severe damage to ports in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Wind and water also smashed shrimp and fishing boats, at least temporarily crippling the Gulf’s multimillion-dollar fishing industry.

Damage estimates have not been tallied.

Fishing industry groups in the area that suffered the worst damage were unavailable for comment.

With phone service still down, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board in New Orleans and the Louisiana Shrimp Association in Grand Isle did not answer their telephones.

Officials at the Maryland Watermen’s Association said although some restaurants are likely to turn to Atlantic Coast seafood as an alternative, the greater danger is damage to the entire commercial fishing industry.

“If we did gain a little bit of market, we can supply only so many crabs,” said Larry Simns, president of the group. “It’s just a shock to the whole industry what happened there.”

Typically, watermen supply restaurants with seafood from the Mid-Atlantic Coast only during warm months, before colder temperatures shut them down.

In the winter, much of the seafood for Washington-area restaurants comes from the Gulf Coast.

“What they pick down there and shuck down there, gets sent up here,” said Mr. Simns, referring to food-processing plants that pull crab and oyster meat from shells.

Shrimp is not harvested from the Mid-Atlantic Coast.

With the Gulf Coast fishing industry severely damaged, restaurants are likely to replace some seafood menu items with other types of food, he said.

“It takes a long time to gain that market share back because something else will fill it,” Mr. Simns said. “That’s what we’re worried about more than anything.”

Seafood restaurants in the Washington area also are worried about the hurricane’s effect on their business.

“We sell a lot of shrimp, a lot of crab,” said Chris Sarris, owner of Orleans House, an Arlington restaurant with a New Orleans theme.

Although his suppliers have not yet warned him about a shortage, he knows it is possible.

“I’d have to change to another item,” Mr. Sarris said.

Bruce Mancuso, co-owner of Crisfield Seafood Restaurant in Silver Spring, said he thinks enough stockpiles of seafood are held in cold storage that restaurants will not suffer shortages.

Nevertheless, he said there could be a shortage if fishing fleets do not return quickly enough to the Gulf waters.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do,” Mr. Mancuso said. “When the supplies run out, they run out. You’re at their mercy, like gasoline. You do without.”

The Gulf Coast freshwater seafood industry, such as for catfish and crawfish, also appears to be damaged.

Catfish and crawfish are raised in aquaculture farms, many of which were washed out by high water.

“There’s probably thousands of crawfish operations there,” said Robert Schmid, president of the Texas Aquaculture Association based in College Station, Texas.

As a result of Hurricane Katrina, “It’s gone for the time being,” he said.

Mr. Schmid also is a broker of catfish, some of which he sells in the New Orleans area. He estimates that the breakdown in Gulf Coast transportation systems is costing him about $2,500 a week in lost freshwater fish sales.

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