Shrimpers Worry They'll Never Return To Gulfport Harbor

Between 60 to 80 shrimpers were forced to leave the Gulfport Harbor after Katrina. They've been displaced to various ports and seaways along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Many of them want to return to Gulfport, but say its been an uphill battle.

Jimmy Rowell is a third generation shrimper. His family has docked here since the Gulfport harbor was built. Since Katrina wiped out the harbor facilities, Rowell and others have sailed their boats to the Pass Christian Harbor.

"We're grateful for these people at Pass to take us in, but it's not home. Home is Gulfport, that's where we were raised," Rowell said.

Gulfport was also more cost efficient than docking in the Pass, according to Rowell.

"To go to our fishing grounds, which is off of Gulfport where we usually work, it's costing us an extra hundred bucks a night just in fuel. Our fuel alone s running us $250 a night just to trawl," Rowell said.

"Before the storm, I had one side of the pier leased, 240 foot," Shrimper Mike Sevel said.

After Katrina, Sevel was ready to get to work helping put the shrimp docks back together.

"After the storm, the pilings were there, the stringers were there, all it needed was decking back on it. And I went to the board meeting and I offered to pay for it out of my pocket. It was going to cost me about $10,000 just in materials. Offered to fix it all, have them inspect it, and they refused," Sevel said.

He said that denial came from the State Port of Gulfport. Shrimpers leased docking space from the Port before Katrina.

The damage in Gulfport made it imposible for shrimpers to come back right away. So the Department of Marine Resources helped some shrimpers find safe harbor in Pass Christian.

Retired shrimper Leroy Pucheu say he fears the boats will never get to go back to Gulfport.

"These men cannot afford anymore expenses than what they've got. We are killing the seafood industry with these kinds of regulations," Pucheu said. "I want to see the harbor given back to the fishermen."

But DMR Director Bill Walker doesn't see that happening.

"It appears to me, at this time, that the intent is to maintain a small presence of a commercial harbor there at Gulfport, perhaps associated with fresh seafood market or something like that, that would be tourist oriented," Walker said.

Walker said there is a $30 million plan to improve accomodations at the Pass Harbor, which includes doubling the harbor's size, and dredging a deeper channel to give larger shrimp boats easier access. Walker said that work should begin in about six months.

The Port of Gulfport is no longer under the jurisdiction of the city, it falls under the state. Mayor Brent Warr said his master plan includes an area for shrimp boats in the harbor.