FAITHFUL FISHERS

Families Make Up A Large Share Of Louisiana’s Commercial Fishing Industry

story by TRey Iles, LDWF Public Information

With the multitude of challenges facing Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry, Kim Chauvin said you must become proficient in two areas.

“You have to learn to adapt and learn to pray,’’ said Chauvin, whose family owns shrimping and seafood businesses in Dulac in Terrebonne Parish. “I just don’t know how people who don’t have faith do this work. You really have to be in a lot of prayer and trust God to keep you going.’’

Those who work coastal Louisiana waters as commercial fishermen know well the hardships facing the business that they have chosen.

Chauvin mentioned four of the big ones in this century alone - the flood of shrimp imports in the early part of the 2000s, hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and the BP oil spill in 2010. Those events by themselves drove many commercial businesses to their collective knees. Combined, they have altered the face of Louisiana’s iconic industry.

So what do you do to adjust? And, perhaps a more intriguing question, why do you continue to do this?

Chauvin answers the latter question succinctly; it’s a labor of love. That would be the answer for most people who do this for a living.

Chauvin married into a family commercial fishing business. She, along with her husband David Chauvin, now runs several businesses with ties to the shrimping industry, including the David Chauvin Seafood Company. This business is really all David Chauvin has known. It was passed down from his father, who inherited it from his father, who inherited from his father, etcetera, etcetera.

“It’s been going for a while,’’ Kim Chauvin said. “He cannot imagine doing anything else. He absolutely loves it and has a passion for what he’s doing. That has given me a passion and love for it, too.’’

Family inheritance is a common thread running through Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry. An article written for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries three years ago detailed the story of Ray Brandhurst, a seventh generation Louisiana commercial fisherman whose family business originated in the Basque region of northern Spain in the 17th century.

“I have a natural compulsion to get out on the water,” Brandhurst said in the story. “This is therapy for me. It’s a connection that, as a fisherman, I make with nature. I will do this for the rest of my life. Even if it were not profitable, I would still do it.”

The Chauvin family feels the same way, and everyone in the family has a part.

Both sons, Lil’ D and Dustin, are involved. Lil’ D is a boat captain and Dustin a dock manager. Daughter Mariah is working on her degree in business management and, during the summer, serves as the company safety manager. She teaches safety classes so that commercial fishermen and women can obtain their safety certifications. Once she graduates, she’ll join the business full-time.

“My management team is pretty much family,’’ Kim Chauvin said. “My godson and son- in-law are both managers and play important roles in the business. We have 7-year-old grandkids that will get their own shovels next summer and start learning.

“Nobody can just pick up on a shrimp boat and go out there and learn how to trawl. You really have to work under someone for many, many years and take it seriously and learn the trade. That’s why you see so many families in this business.’’

But Kim Chauvin said while many of the old ways are embraced, it’s equally important to adapt to changing times, and even reinvent the business. The landscape has been altered - figuratively from a business perspective and quite literally, too, as Louisiana’s coast has changed because of land loss. That means commercial fishermen must change, too, she said.

Katrina’s devastating strike forced them to shift how they did business. David Chauvin was a boat captain until 2005 when Katrina hit. Out of necessity, the Chauvins built a dock in Dulac, and David stepped off his boat and into managing the dock.

“We put a dock together after Katrina,’’ Kim Chauvin said. “We now own our own dock and processing facility. God opened the door of opportunity for us to purchase the facilities but we have had to work harder and longer hours. It sure hasn’t been a walk in the park. Many times, we wish we could go back to bringing our entire family back on the boat to that peaceful place. But our family has grown and we’re moving forward.

“The storm wiped out everybody. One thing we saw (after 2005) was that everywhere David used to shrimp has changed. David stays in contact with a lot of boats. He helps people put their boats back together, to know where to go to trawl, to know what mesh to have on their boat, whatever it is.’’

Kim Chauvin said it’s important to be actively involved with government agencies and federal and state legislators.

“We want to become better at what we do and do it as cost-efficiently as we possibly can,’’ Kim Chauvin said. “We’ve worked on reducing bycatch with better trawls and devices. And we preach safety. The sustainability issue is big for us.

“The main part of what we do at our dock is unloading shrimp. But the second part is educating the fishermen on things in our industry that will be coming at them. We also want to educate the consumer on what to look for in packaging at grocery stores and what to ask for in restaurants and some of the laws with which we deal.’’

In Louisiana, seafood is as iconic as the brown pelican and the alligator. The dishes from Louisiana’s signature restaurants have become well-known nationally and internationally. One of the reasons is the fresh seafood used in many of the recipes.

It’s important that consumers understand that Louisiana seafood comes from fisheries that are managed to keep fish populations and the Gulf healthy and ensure people will always be able to enjoy the state’s world-famous seafood.

Kim Chauvin said educating the public is important to their company. That’s one of the reasons why they’ve begun a new branch of their business called Down the Bayou Shrimp Tours.

“We’ve developed this so people can see what we do and know our concerns for the Gulf of Mexico and how important it is to leave something for our kids, our grandkids and our great grandkids,’’ Kim Chauvin said. “We’re certainly doing this to make a living. But we’re there to do it in a way that is sustainable.’’

The work in the commercial fishing business is tough. From May to June and August to December, the Chauvin family works seven days a week.

“It’s a lot of work,’’ Kim Chauvin said. “But when it’s something you love, you don’t mind. We’ll keep praying and have faith in God. And one day we can look back and say, ‘You know what? We worked for it and we made it.’ ‘’

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