Gov. Bush looks to help struggling shrimpers

Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 2:04 a.m.

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) - Kenneth Farguson II was trying to sell his nets Friday to buy food for himself and his wife as Gov. Jeb Bush announced that a series of meetings will be held around Florida next week offering help to struggling and out-of-work shrimpers.

Many are being forced out of business by low-priced foreign competition that has affected the entire U.S. shrimping industry. And there's a double-whammy in some areas, such as the Florida Panhandle, as shrimp stocks have dwindled.

"It's been so bad here lately I've sold off everything I've owned," Farguson said. "I don't have anything. I live on my boat."

He said he has sold his car and home and once got some fish and other food for helping unload boxes of shrimp imported from South America. Farguson said he hoped he could get $300 for nets that cost him five times that much. He was offering them for sale to Bill Matthews, another Pensacola shrimper.

Matthews said he has survived only because he has another business fixing boat propellers although that, too, has not been going well and he has been late with some of his bills.

"Most of the boats have left this part of the world," Matthews said. "If you aren't catching nothing and the price is nothing, you are wasting your time."

The governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development plans to hold meetings with shrimpers and representatives of various state agencies that can offer help ranging from social and health services to retraining for new jobs.

"I've asked relevant state agencies to reach out to affected individuals to help minimize the impact," Bush said in a news release.

The meetings will be held Tuesday through Thursday in Apalachicola, Fort Myers, Crystal River, Marathon, Tarpon Springs, Mayport and Fort Walton Beach.

"It's a tough spot for all of them," said Jerry Sansom, executive director of Organized Fishermen of Florida, a trade group. "The imported shrimp are being dumped on the market here cheaper than we can catch them."

The imports, mainly from China, Thailand and Vietnam, have forced down the price of U.S-produced shrimp. Prices from 2000 through 2002 have dropped as much as 40 percent while the quantity of imported shrimp has increased, according to the governor's statement.

Domestic shrimpers are appealing to the U.S. Commerce Department to invoke antidumping legislation and put a tariff on imported shrimp, Sansom said.

They contend China in particular has dumped large quantities of pond-raised shrimp at below-cost prices to reduce excessive stocks, but proving that may be difficult, said Bob Jones, executive director of Southeastern Fisheries, another trade group based in Tallahassee.

Jones said the European Union banned Chinese shrimp treated with a chemical to kill salmonella and it is believed those shrimp have gone, instead, to the U.S. market.

There are about 3,000 shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico - probably less than 1,000 of them in Florida - and all have been affected by the imports, Jones said.

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