Until yesterday, I had no idea that the Westbank Expressway actually became a street, since it’s mostly an overpass. I was sent mid-morning to evaluate the current status of mom-and-pop seafood stores and stands on the expressway in Westwego, only 15 minutes away from the office in Gretna, scared that no one would talk to me because I’m sure they’ve already been interviewed by media. My GPS brought me to this gravel parking lot on the side of the highway, which is essentially a cluster of stalls that all pay rent to set up there and to cover the facilities. It was close to noon, which is usually the busiest time of day for seafood vendors, but I was the only person there besides the business owners and a customer or two, just another testament to the havoc the oil spill has wreaked on the seafood industry:
First, I talked to some employees at Amy’s Seafood. They weren’t very gregarious (I’m trying to use as many GRE vocabulary words as possible without sounding pretentious), but they did tell me they aren’t getting as many customers, and that they have to buy fish from Georgia now that Lake Pontchatrain is closed since they found tar balls there. They said shrimp is 75 cents to $1.75 more per pound right now, which is expensive.
Then I went “next door” to Ruth Ann and Rob’s Seafood Unlimited, where Ruth Ann and Rob were happy to share all of the details of their story with me:
You’ll read about all of that and more in the article (below), but what really struck me was that Ruth was recently prescribed antidepressants because of the emotional repercussions of the economic hardship caused by the spill. They’ve already sold their personal vehicle, a Jeep; some of their furniture, and their house is on the market. They can’t pay the bills and they’ll have to close their doors soon. Here’s Ruth talking about the general public’s misperceptions about Gulf (and non-Gulf) seafood:
The remains of Ruth’s latest (and probably last) supply of fresh softshell crabs and lump crab meat:
This freezer would normally be filled with dozens of varieties of fresh seafood like shrimp, oysters, and crabs, but now it’s all snacks and drinks:
Another freezer was stocked with imported farm-raised shrimp and Emeril’s brand of frozen seafood. I also spoke with one of their regular customers, who was there buying shrimp as he does every week.
It was time to move on, so I went to a store called Perino’s, but the proprietor didn’t want to be interviewed because, according to him, he had been misquoted in the past. On my way back to the office I stopped at Westwego Seafood also on the expressway, but the lights were out and the doors were locked. It was clear that no one had been there for a while because a flier about USDA seafood safety measures and a packet about filing BP claims just sat on the sidewalk in front of the doors. And so I returned with not enough material, ate lunch, researched more seafood businesses to scout out, and hit the road again.
According to some men who were loading things into a truck outside Martin Brothers Seafood Co. Donna, the owner, did not really want to talk to me, but she ended up running her mouth anyway about the BP claims process, about how the people who filed immediately got their money quickly, but that she had waited since she still had some business, and is now buried in the paperwork needed to make a claim. She complained that she thought people who had gotten money from BP early on, some of her “colleagues” in the business, shouldn’t have necessarily received that money, and that the Westwego claims office is awful compared to the ones in Lafitte and Belle Chasse. However, unlike most of the other people I spoke with, she is confident that things will eventually turn around and that she will be compensated. Meanwhile, she says her freezer is stocked with things like catfish fillets imported from Vietnam (yum!). In the end, she did tell me it was a relief to be able to get all of that off her chest. The storefront, also located in a gravel parking lot:
Another closed business with an empty parking lot:
My last stop was the Pickin Box, where the owner (I forgot his name) sells mostly crawfish:
He said he’s not hurting as badly as his fellow seafood vendors because he doesn’t rely solely on shrimp and crab, but that his business is down 30 to 40 percent. He was annoyed with the recent media story about there being oil in crab larvae.
After that, it was back to the office to write the story:
Westwego seafood vendors feeling the Gulf oil spill pinch
With oil still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from a rig explosion almost three months ago, a cluster of Westwego seafood vendors are facing increasingly harder times financially.
Fishing area closures have shut off fresh supplies, causing some vendors to rely on farmed and imported seafood…
Don’t forget to look at the photo credits. And that’s a wrap!