High fuel prices keeping shrimp boats at Brownsville ship channel
Shrimp boats are staying put at the Brownsville ship channel because the price of fuel is too high.
For the last six weeks, Leonard Leyva, who manages the Cruz fleet of 14 shrimp boats, is keeping his employees busy on land in whatever way he can.
"We try to keep some of them employed here,” Leyva said. “The others are just going off looking for construction work on the island, just trying to get by these few months."
The situation is now making an ongoing labor shortage even worse. The industry says several years ago, Congress didn't renew a cap on H-2B visas for migrant workers who used to make up the workforce. If the remaining employees can't get paid, they could leave.
"That is my biggest fear, because where am I going to find captains and rig men?” Leyva said. “We have a huge turnover on headers. Nobody wants to go shrimping."
Each shrimp boat takes 15 to 20,000 gallons of fuel.
"That comes out anywhere from 60 to $100,000 just to fill up one of these boats for maybe a 60-day trip," said Texas Shrimp Association Director Andrea Hance.
Hance says fuel prices would have to drop more to consider going out.
"If fuel prices get around $3.50, the majority of these boat owners will go ahead and send the vessels out, basically to keep the crew with the vessel and they're able to pay them,” Hance said. “Now, the vessel owner may not make money, probably won't, but it allows the crew to get paid."
Hance, head of the association that represents shrimpers, said she's making sure officials hear what's happening.
"I've reached out to the department of agriculture, our governor, some of the local and state representatives," Hance said.
Shrimping crews continue to look for work while they wait for a positive change in the price of fuel.
"That's our biggest fear, that if the prices of fuel don't come down, we're going to be in a world of hurt," Leyva said.