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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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BAYOU CADDY, Miss. – The irony of what is happening in the post-Katrina fishing industry along the Gulf Coast is as twisted as the steel in the ruins of the marina here.

She took it all, the killer hurricane did, boats and docks and gear, cars and trucks and homes. Rough and ready men and women who pulled their living from the sea lost everything to it. But Katrina’s awful churning of the fishing grounds appears to have returned a bounty of seafood to which government inspectors have given a clean bill of health.

Be that as it may, say commercial and charter fishermen from Galveston to Pensacola and beyond, it won’t do most of them a bit of good unless and until they get massive government assistance to find, repair and replace boats, clean out waterways and harbors and restore docks, fuel pumps, ice houses and processing facilities.

The federal government has declared a “resource disaster” for the gulf fishery and says the industry, which harvests an estimated $700 million a year in finfish, shrimp, oysters and crabs, took a billion-dollar-plus hit, but so far has offered no direct aid.

“I feel like the effort is really klutzy,” says crabber Bob Metz, 63. “I’ve been dealing with the SBA for over a hundred days and FEMA too. … I think the scale of this disaster has taken everybody by surprise and the government just wasn’t prepared.”

Metz is one of a handful of fishermen scrambling to get back in business along the canals and estuaries of Bayou Caddy, once home to a thriving marina with a huge dry boat storage facility, ice house and fuel station. Now, only a mushroom-shaped water tower is left standing to guard a forlorn debris field of broken boats, gangways, tires, crab traps and rats’ nests of rope and netting. The winter wind blows cold through the marshes at the mouth of the bayou, across three-ton tank supports tumbled to the ground like dominoes, and plays a lonely clinking of line and tackle against boom and mast.

Metz, who has been catching, retailing and wholesaling crabs for more than 20 years from a residential and business compound at water’s edge, lost his three-bedroom home, a large office, cold-storage units and three boats to Katrina. Slowly, he is trying to put his business back together, borrowing $50,000 to replace his boats and equipment and selling crabs from a refrigerated truck parked next to his FEMA trailer on his storm-scoured lot.

Excellent crab catch
Shortly after the storm, the crabbing couldn’t have been better, Metz says. Katrina stirred the pot in some way that brought “way more crabs than we’re used to catching.” A hundred traps yielded 600 to 700 pounds of the blue Mississippi soft-shells, whose Latin name Callinectes sapidus means “savory, beautiful swimmer.” While his retail business is weak because travel trailers and other temporary living quarters have little room for storing crabs, the wholesale demand has been good and Metz expects the price to rise to $2 a pound as the year progresses.

Next door to Metz, oysterman Randy Tomasich, 37, also lost his home, but he saved his 48-foot boat by sailing it upstream. Still, it was pushed 30 feet ashore by Katrina’s surge. Since the storm, Tomasich hasn’t felt much like working his oyster dredges because he has been faring well in the reconstruction business, using the grab bag of welding, carpentry and other skills that he acquired in 25 years as a fisherman.

Still, it’s just a matter of time before Tomasich returns to the water. Mississippi has closed its oyster grounds to let them rebuild after Katrina, but some oystermen are working Louisiana waters, where they are pulling 150 sacks a day. Even in Mississippi, which most commercial oystermen eschew because of its 15-sack daily limit, “as far as I’m concerned, the oysters are good now,” Tomasich says. “I don’t know why they’re not letting us get them.”

On the bayou’s main arm, Trinh Huynh and Hong Tran have a lot of nets to mend aboard their 65-foot shrimp trawler, the Dustin Randy. Since the storm, they have been snagging everything from trees to cars along with the shrimp. More than 25 years after coming to the United States from their native Vietnam, the couple had built a business that was providing them with a nice house in Waveland and college tuition for two of their four children. “One day, we all gone,” Hong says, her fingers flying among the green netting. “One day, everything gone.”

Trinh rode out Katrina aboard his steel vessel, winding up well inland and 400 feet away from the bayou, an experience to which he says “not again.” He is thankful for help from the Coast Guard in getting the Dustin Randy back in the water, but puzzled as to why more than $13,000 worth of fuel had to be removed from it and not replaced.

While post-Katrina shrimping was good in places along the coast, Trinh and Hong’s business is now tremendously complicated by having to travel 10 hours for fuel and ice. They are making some money selling their catch dockside, but their entire customer count on one recent afternoon was two visiting police officers.

'I don't know'
Living in a FEMA trailer, the family doesn’t plan to give up, but asked about his hopes for the future of his own business and his whole industry, Trinh draws deeply on his Marlboro and says simply, “I don’t know.”

Oysterman Roger Ladner stands in front of My Ladies, one of his two fishing vessels left stranded in the trees after Hurricane Katrina's flood waters receded. Click 'play' to hear Ladner's son, Michael Beech, talk about their predicament. (John Brecher / MSNBC.com)


Oystermen Michael Beech and his dad Roger Ladner can only be envious of fishermen who have gotten back in the water. Their 43-foot My Ladies and 58-foot Catherine were left high and dry up the Jourdan River in Kiln, where they were taken in a bid to dodge Katrina. Now hundreds of yards from the water and on private property, the boats are not a high priority as the Coast Guard works to clear the area’s waterways.

“They said it could be a while before the put them back in the water or they could never put them back in the water,” Beech says, surveying the vessels, which wound up in a small pecan grove amid a pile of pine logs from a nearby sawmill.

Although Beech has years of experience working for others, the men had only recently gotten into the fishing business for themselves after Ladner cashed in his 401(k) to buy the boats. They were doing well until Katrina hit. “I’d be in Louisiana working right now, making 300 sacks every two days,” Beech says, a haul that would bring $6,000.

The men are investigating private options to get their boats running again, expecting to pay $3,000 or more. “Has anyone told you what B-O-A-T means?” asks Ladner. “Break out another thou.”

The charter fishing industry also suffered mightily. Businessmen who didn’t lose their boats lost their visitor base and the infrastructure that supported their operations, says Capt. John Lewis, who was taking a hiatus from running his “Speck” Tacular charter boat out of Bay St. Louis when Katrina hit.

Lots of 'specks'
But Lewis says the post-Katrina fishing for the speckled trout that are the namesake of his boat and the “No. 1 game fish along the Gulf Coast” is so good that he is thinking about returning to the business. On recent outings, the “specks,” a saltwater version of rainbow trout “were plentiful and they were hungry,” Lewis said.

An industry group, the National Association of Charter Boat Operators, says about half the charter vessels in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were either lost or severely damaged by the storm. By mid-December, charter boat skippers had lost nearly 18,000 trips, a direct loss of nearly $25 million, a NACO spokesman told a congressional panel last month.

At that same hearing, before the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans, a host of speakers detailed the damage to both the commercial and charter industries and implored Congress to help.

“The industry is suffering as much as any industry I’ve seen,” said William Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who put the cost of rebuilding at $1.2 billion.

But a few days later, when Congress approved another $29 billion in hurricane relief funds for the gulf region, there was nothing in the bill for fishermen.


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128 COMMENTS

These are the people that are forgotten in the tug of war between FEMA, SBA, the insurance companies, and the federal goverment. They are the backbone of these fishing villages that were destroyed by Katrina. My family has know Bob Metz for years now as a hardworking fisherman. We have enjoyed his bounty every summer. Hopefully, things will work in a manner to get the "little" people back on their feet.

Valdez, Alaska is donating a Marine TravelLift to help get Katrina's land-bound boats back in the water.

Reminds me of the Forrest Gump movie except this is real life. I was shrimping after hurricane Fredrick came thru in 1979 and the Mississippi Sound was full of jumbo white shrimp.
My Dad always told me, " Shrimping is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get" :)

What a Absoulute Shame! Right now we are in high wind warnings... ( a coatal town off the pacific ocean) Fishing Industry is so important to our food chain here, as is to the usa... Gods be with you all, May Hope Peace and Compassion be with you.. all of you.. Today, and Always. Bead and Family

I feel sorry for any poor working man trying to get money out of this administration. The bureaucracy surrounding this administration is out of control. There is no common sense in the whole of Washington DC.

Why would the government want to help the working class when they can spend the money on people who can't even make out a 1040 and not have brains enough to get of harms way..

seems as much tax dollar is being lost with these boats not in the water...the towns...the counties..the state ...and yes even the feds would say...let's put those folks back to work...all ya gotta do is help get the boats in da drink and tada...you will have people working again

Again, what i've wrote in other notes time and time again. How can you expect an area the size of the effected parts of Miss. & Alab. to have recovered in a couple of months when the whole thing is broke? The fishing industry (all aspects) were, in effect, wiped out. But people from around the country still write about pulling the aid away from that area "and make them people get jobs like everyone else". This is a big need that needs to be filled and our government needs to coordinate and help rebuild it as soon as possible with the same "gusto" George went to war with or the families effected will be further and further away from recovering what they had lost. And why couldn't congress attach a little more money for recovering the industry to that recovery bill??? Well, good luck to you folks. Your going to need it...

These fishermen have a terrible plight. They should be riding their Congressmen and Senators daily until they get help. If they don't complain in the right venue, they will never get help. The government should help butwill have to be pushed. Reminder, this is an election year!!!!

I am glad to hear that the catch is plentiful and safe. We were floundering in Ocean Springs and saw live oysters over Thanksgiving which was really heartening. I hope you all get the help you need to get back in business. The live food you catch is such a wonderful part of life on the coast.

My tears fall and my heart is broken as I am constantly reminded of all those in despair in the coastal region where I laughed, loved and misbehaved. What souls of great strength I read about and read their stories. I am honored to know I came from such great stock. With all it's rips, scratches, and stains that give it the character I adore. I have my mother and sister with two nieces and one nephew that are part of the stalwart folk that make up the true grit of the coast.
My New Year's Prayer and blessing on them is already
true. Wisdom, wealth, healing and health with much
love and long happy lives. God is sooooo good! "According to your faith," Jesus said this in many ways. Take this from a truly loving father, mother, provider, one that wants you to have and be blessed and believe. I'm pointing to you as I have 4 more fingers pointing back at me. Pull yourself up
and KNOW you already have all your requests from God
when you believe in his Son and take him at "his WORD."
If you make it VOID by not believing, that's sad. Take a baby step. I do, everyday. Once in a while I leap and bound, but sometimes I stumble over my own advice.
Two great losses occurred to me almost three years ago now. My father passed away, my sisters' family fell apart. I fell down hurt and angry on my knees to
cry, complain, and do great drama to my soul, thinking it wasn't fair! BUT then I remembered the nature of the God I believe in. Powerful and Loving!!!! He wants us to have Wisdom, Wealth, Healing and Health. Mostly He specifies WE have according to Our Faith. Faith moves mountains, puts love in our hearts, changes lives, heals hurts, and gives grace in the time of need. Go OUT OF Your houses, trailers, tents and do unto others as you would have them do to you. I love you though I don't know you all. My belief and my request to God for the people of the Gulf Coast is Wisdom to restore, love, have great prosperity (wealth) healing of all the broken hearts, Have health and long happy lives to enjoy the fruit of their LABOR. TO: "STRENGTH AND COURAGE!" To watching the Great Recovery! By the way, The Nation and the World are Watching, it's proving time. I BELIEVE

HOW CAN WE HELP? THIS IS NOT FAIR. CAN WE SEND EMAILS? TO FEMA? TO YOUR CONGRESSMAN? I'M LISTING TO THE PRESIDENT SPEAKING RIGHT NOW ON MSNBC AND HE KEEPS SAYING HOW GOOD EVERYTHING IS GOING. I KNOW IT IS NOT TRUE WHEN I READ AN ARTICLE LIKE THIS, BUT I AM A WIDOW IN CALIFORNIA. THE ONLY THING I CAN DO IS SIT HERE AND SEND EMAILS, BUT THAT I WILL DO.THIS IS AMERICA AND MY TAX MONEY SHOULD BE HELPING MY FELLOW AMERICAN.

This makes me sad and hungy all at the same time.Hang in there.

As a longtime lover of all forms of seafood as well as fishing itself including charter fishing this article is distressing. Each day we read of just one more thing our current administration was never prepared for or seem willing to support. Yet we constantly seem able to overspend our taxpayers dollars overseas. It is time our goverment supports it's people and not just the worlds.

I hope everyone out there is e-mailing Washington to find out what is taking sooo long. If it was their area they would be right on it.

We all recognize that the tragedy of this year's hurricane season has been great, and the cost to everyone will be too as we march forward in time. Even so, it is not the governments job to bail us out... unless, of course, we want to be a nation that has a socialistic or even communistic form of government -- where we depend on the government to meet all our needs, and thus are enslaved by that mindset.

Kudos to those who are not looking to Washington for answers!

What a crying shame. This administration should be ashamed of itself. If Bush would put all his gusto and effort into the Gulf Coast rebuilding as he has this so-called war, people and our economy just might thrive and flourish as he so claims they are doing.

People dont understand bureaucracy...you cannot just hand out money with good will...there has to be structure and verification of funds with paper trails so that scandal can be diverted. Nonetheless I feel for the people of my home state and pray that soon enough government funds will break through to wash away the sorrow.

Blaming the Bush Administration is easy and typical of the many liberals chiming in on this discussion. Mother Nature is responsible here and people must realize there is sometimes a price to pay for living in beautiful coastal communities. The beauracracy of the local and state governments are far more responsible for the problems we are seeing than the Federal Government. Be glad you live in a country where there is a government that has the ability to provide bale out monies, be glad that you were able to survive the storm and the aftermath. Free market will provide for folks who have properly planned and prepared for such a situation. People who live in that region should have always had contingencies that would provide for them in a situation like this. There was plenty of warning and it should have not been a surprise to anyone that such a devastation storm was possible. In times of plenty, you should plan for times of need.

I pray for the people down in Katrinas path. I would like to know why it took so long for help if thats what you want to call it. It was known that Katrina was coming,maybe not to the extreme that it was but they knew. Why wasn't the help there. Also the fact that so much more help is needed still so why does the government and the media put ot aside. Could it be that the governmnet and certain agenciew screwed up so bad thta they are trying to push this issue aside. In the mean time we have so many billions of dollars locked in for the rebuilding of what we bombed in the Mid East. Fiqure that one.

Uncle Sam did not help me build my business. If I had a fire or a tornado that would distroy my business, my insurance company, would rebuild it. When a tornado hit the midwest and distroys farms and houses, our government does not rebuild the homes. That is why you should have insurance. Why sould our Government rebuild your business?

It's weird that when someone asks why the government
can't help just a little, others start screaming about
their tax dollars and raising red flags about Communism.
Geez. I don't see a single person down here sitting
around waiting for their government check.

Mr. Jim Null should come down here and have a look
at how people are rebuilding their lives.

Pretty neat how bountiful the ocean becomes as soon as you pull the nets out of the water. Feel badly for those guys, but the Gulf is overfished.

Paul in IA don't be to sure that the insurance will rebuild your business. there are many down here whose homes and businesses were destroyed by Katrina that had insurance and the insurance companies are only paying less than 30% of the coverage

Waves come crashing, strong winds blow,
life feels as though it’s falling apart,
Know yourself; love yourself, be yourself,
God placed these things deep within your heart.
No I will not take a step back,
I will not go their way,
I’ve worked to hard to be where I’m at
Going back just means more to pay.
I’ll be a better person through all of this,
The lessons of life we learn each day,
The road is there so take a step,
For soon you will find your way.

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