Port of Gulfport explores how to bring large vessel shrimpers home

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Four years after Hurricane Katrina forced them out of Gulfport, shrimpers say they're ready to come home. With that in mind, the Port of Gulfport formed a committee to explore if it could rebuild its commercial small craft harbor in a way that's cost effective and timely.

Back in June of 2005, shrimpers complained to WLOX News about the shallow channel leading into the Port Of Gulfport's commercial harbor. Little did they know that just a few months later there would be no harbor.

"My clients are shrimpers. Shrimped in Gulfport all their lives," said Attorney William Dreher. "This is home to them. Since the hurricane, they don't have a home. All the shrimpers are scattered from Bayou LaBatre to the Mississippi River."

Building shrimpers a new home at the Port would cost $842,000. The Port Commission said that expense would have to be passed on to the shrimpers.

"If we were to advertise that over a ten year period, we're looking at a cost per foot of slippage of around $9 which is roughly four times what they were paying before, which I don't think is very viable," Commissioner Frank Wilem said.

Money isn't the only issue. A new report says that with permitting, dredging and construction, a new harbor wouldn't be ready for years.

"We're talking about things five and ten years down the line," Dreher said. "My people won't be shrimping, maybe, ten years down the line, but they're going to be old."

Port commissioners said another obstacle is that the port as a whole is in the middle of a transition.

"Restoring something that costs a million dollars in the middle of where you don't know where you're going with the port development is problematic," Wilem said. "That's the main problem. But we're certainly supportive of and we sympathize with them. We want to see the shrimpers back."

"There's no easy answer and there's no quick answer, but at least we've got people listening to us," Dreher said. "The commission, before, we didn't think they cared. We see at least they are concerned. They'd like to help us."

Port commissioners are looking at several other options for accommodating large shrimp boats including building a temporary harbor, leasing private property or supporting the expansion of nearby harbors. The port plans to continue meeting with shrimpers to discuss strategies.

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