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Baton Rouge Advocate: New ice machine hot topic

A $500,000 donation from Shell Oil Co. is allowing three new trailer-size ice plants to be installed in Chalmette and Cameron Parish for regional use.

By AMY WOLD

Advocate staff writer
Published: Aug 24, 2006
 
CHALMETTE — The grand opening of a new building Wednesday lured more than 100 spectators and merited a visit by Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

The building?

An ice machine.

That’s how important the rebuilding of fishing infrastructure is to communities in St. Bernard Parish and surrounding parishes.

For months, getting ice to the fishermen at Bayou Bienville in St. Bernard meant a six-hour roundtrip to Dulac in Terrebonne Parish.

Twice a day, employees of Theresa Seafood dock would make the drive, said Paul Tran, the dock’s owner son.

Peter Gerica, a shrimper, crabber and fishermen now operating out of New Orleans East, said the lack of ice has been a big problem.

“Wherever you can find it, you haul it to the boat,” Gerica said.

Finding ice could mean a one- to two-hour drive to Lafitte or farther, he said.

“They’ve got some at Hopedale, but it’s a 40-minute drive and they’ve only got enough for the boats right there,” Gerica said.

To address the problem, officials unveiled a new 20-ton-a-day ice machine Wednesday, one of three being paid for through a $500,000 donation from Shell Oil Co.

Chalmette will have two machines and third one will be installed in Cameron Parish to help fishermen in southwest Louisiana.

Rusty Gaudé of the LSU Agricultural Center and Louisiana Sea Grant College Program said the extent of fishing infrastructure recovery varies across the coast.

He said Plaquemines Parish docks and fishing infrastructure have recovered much better than those in St. Bernard because Plaquemines Parish owned public marinas and land that face the water before Hurricane Katrina and St. Bernard did not.

That waterside property ownership allowed Plaquemines Parish immediate access to land where the U.S. Coast Guard could salvage boats.

St. Bernard did not, Gaude said.

Quicker boat salvage meant marinas were cleaned out quicker, fishermen could get to work sooner and infrastructure built up to support the increases, he said.

“Almost all locations in Plaquemines are ice producers (now),” Gaudé said.

He said the only place in St. Bernard Parish that has ice is at Theresa Seafood, and that happened very recently.

Gaudé said the new ice machine will allow local fishermen to stay out on the water longer, which means lower fuel costs and a higher profit margin.

Mark Schnexnayder of the LSU Agricultural Center said although the new ice machine is landlocked on Paris Road, it will still mean a shorter trip for fishermen.

In addition, the machine will be operated by the parish, and ice will be sold at cost.

“The prices were going through the roof,” Schnexnayder said.

He said it’s unclear how much demand the new Chalmette ice station will meet.

The state’s active fishing fleet has decreased since last year’s storms, Katrina and Rita, said Martin Bourgeois of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Although the state DWF is working on a report on fishing activity, it appears to be down, Bourgeois said.

He said Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes accounted for 24 percent of the shrimp landings for the state before the storm.

That has changed, he said.

“The industry there simply has not recovered to the base it was before the storm,” Bourgeois  said.

According to the DWF, during the period of September through December, the number of shrimp boats actually fishing declined from 2,944 in 2004 to 1,685 in 2005 — a 43 percent decrease.

However, fishermen are working and a steady supply of affordable ice will help.

“This is going to be great,” Gerica said. “It’s got to help. One more step up.”

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