Shortage of Workers Expected to Affect Upcoming Shrimp Season

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PORT OF BROWNSVILLE – Boat owners said new restrictions on work permits for foreign workers are forcing them to count on whichever workers they can find.

Boat owner Marcelino Ochoa said his employees at the shrimp basin are currently getting their boats ready for their time out on the Gulf.

Crew member Carlos Martinez, 66, said he's been a shrimper for about 25 years. He said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.

"We're already used to doing this type of work. So, we do it with pride because we like it," he said.

Ochoa said he’s been struggling to find workers willing to spend months on the water doing tough labor. He said younger generations are just not interested in these types of jobs.

Ochoa added he was lucky to get what he could, young or old, to fill positions on his 13 boats.

He said one of his captains is a 77-year-old man. But some of those older workers, like Martinez, said they’re feeling the added work load.

"The president didn't allow the work permits for the people from Nicaragua and Honduras,” Martinez said. “They are good deckhands, hard workers. Many boats have been docked because there's not enough workers."

Alejandro Ramirez is the man that dove into the water to save an older shrimper who fell into the water Monday morning.

He said in this industry, the dangers are everywhere: on the dock and out at sea, especially for those a little older than him.

"It's tough out there. You can fall into the water, the boat can sink. So many things," he said.

Ramirez said he’s grateful his older co-workers help keep the industry afloat. He said without them, he may not have a job as a shrimper.

"We've got to be out here working, to provide for our families," he said.

Andrea Hance, president of the RGV Shrimpers Association, said it's extremely risky and costly for boat owners to hire inexperienced employees. She said about 99 percent of new hires ask to be taken off the boat mid-season, costing everyone on board.

Hance said that's why many have to depend on older workers with experience when there's a shortage of foreign workers. 

The start of shrimping season in the Gulf of Mexico starts on July 15.

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