Shrimpers learn how to stay financially afloat

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -  Katrina's lashing left many Mississippi shrimpers struggling to stay afloat. Now, add rising fuel prices and the sinking economy to their financial troubles.

"The seafood industry, it's in trouble out here," said Leo Esclamado, the Business Counselor for NAVASA. "So any way to survive, any business practices we can encourage the survival of your average shrimper."

The organization NAVASA (National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies) is hosting a series of financial workshops in Biloxi. On Thursday, representatives explained the Access-to-Equity Program, which offers low-interest loans to refugees and low-income people who were devastated by recent hurricanes. About 25 Vietnamese-Americans came to learn about loans that can help them open or expand their business, or even buy a new boat.

"These fishermen, their needs are totally different," said Andy Tran, a financial consultant who came down from Washington D.C. to offer his expertise.  "Clearly there's a language gap. So that's what we're also here for is to bridge that gap. How do we take you from one economic level to the next one?"

The shrimpers also heard about a new type of net that's supposed to be lighter and more durable, which can help cut down on fuel costs. And they picked-up a new idea: How to make some extra money by harvesting oysters.

"We have a small loan fund that is looking to fund some upgrades for skimmers that are willing to go into the oyster industry.  Whether that's funding their dredges or what not," said Esclamado. "Just earning a living during the off-season of shrimping."

These financial lessons are aimed at helping the shrimpers navigate through the rough Katrina recovery phase and the rocky economy.

The financial workshops are held once a month and they are conducted in both Vietnamese and English. They program is also sponsored by the Hope Community Center, Boat People SOS, and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.