Local Shrimpers Fear Effects Of Free Trade

Some Gulf coast fishermen are worried that a proposed trade agreement will hurt their already sinking profits. On Saturday, a group of Louisiana shrimpers took to the streets of New Orleans in protest. They're upset about a trade agreement the United States is considering with five Central American countries. It's called the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA. The agreement would lift some tariffs between the U.S. and Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador. Some local shrimpers said the government is offering "free trade" at their expense.

Biloxi shrimper Mike Williams recently scaled back his operation. He said fuel, deck hand wages and other expenses were eating up his catch. To help pay bills, he got a job on land.

"I'm the weekend warrior now, when the wind blows and all during the week, I've got that full time job and then weekends I go out and run the boat a little bit instead of just leaving it tied up," said Williams. "Last night I went out and just barely made my money back to pay for the fuel."

Several shrimpers said, of all the factors hurting their industry, cheap imports are the worst. They're not thrilled that the U.S. could strike a deal with Central America similar to the one it has with Mexico and Canada.

"It would be worse. It would hurt the fisherman more and they're slowly running us out of business as it is," said shrimper Mark Skrmetta.

The foreign shrimp are hurting the business of American fisherman. Gulf Coast shrimpers may see low prices fall even more, as trade negotiations wrap up early next year.

Williams is hoping for the best. He said, "You never know from day to day what's gonna happen and it's hard to judge which way it's gonna go."

Some customers said the United States should do all it can to protect its shrimpers even if it meant they would pay higher prices. Others said the world is headed to a global economy and the country will just have to get used to it.