Tugboat captain speaks about Hurricane Laura’s impact on the shrimp industry

Mid-South

LAKE CHARLES, La. (NewsNation Now) — While parts of the Gulf Coast are flooding after Hurricane Sally, Lake Charles, Louisiana is still in recovery mode from Hurricane Laura.

Many people who make a living on the water there have lost their livelihood. One local tugboat captain in Calcasieu Parish watched the devastation first hand.

“It was my shift, it was my time to ride, and a captain can’t abandon his ship,” said John Chesson, tugboat captain.

These Louisiana waters are home to him. 

“Louisiana for life,” said Chesson. “I’m on the water probably 320 days a year.”

When the tides began to turn three weeks ago, he stayed put—onboard his company tugboat— to fuel ships out on the Calcasieu River despite the category four hurricane barreling his way.

“Whenever we get our license, we have a sworn oath with the United States Coast Guard,” said Chesson. “We have obligations.”

Alone on his boat at the darkest hour, Chesson witnessed everything go south.

“I literally watched eight different families lose their livelihoods—some shrimpers whose boats were tied to me. I had my Xenon spotlight on them watching them sink one at a time. One of the shrimpers that night ended up getting thrown in the water—he can’t swim. Hearing his faint cries on the radio.”  

He calls that helplessness the worst feeling he’s ever had—not to be able to help a friend in need. Those shrimping families now left with nothing, and they’re not alone.

“A lot of people make a living off this water. Anywhere from the oil industry down to crabbers, shrimpers, oystermen,” said Jeremy Waltrip, John Chesson’s friend.

Waltrip and Chesson are boating under sunshine today, but it’s been a dismal month for the charter captain who makes his money off his saltwater guide service.

“It pretty much shut every charter business on this lake down at least a month,” said Waltrip.  “Basically, I wouldn’t think anybody is going to crank back up until October 1s

While waiting for normalcy, they go out together and survey dock damage and floating debris—all of which has decimated Lake Charles’ brackish ecosystem.

“The smell was just horrendous, everywhere,” said Chesson. “I mean you can just imagine what a bunch of dead fish would smell like. It stinks.”

“We had Rita, Ike and now Laura. Some people are just getting tired of cleaning up,” said Waltrip.

Both men, however, say it’s going to take a lot more than malodor and a lady named Laura to keep them from coming home.

“Nothing can take me from down here. Just the good Lord,” said Chesson.

The economy of seafood in Louisiana is vital—one out of every 70 jobs is related to the industry. It brings in $2.4 billion dollars annually to the state. Shrimping alone accounts for 15,000 jobs.

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