Archive for April, 2011

Dardenne: Too late to save some areas of Gulf Coast

Officials from across south Louisiana said residents along the entire Gulf Coast will face tough decisions.

Tuesday began the first of 14 meetings to develop plans on how to sustain coastal communities that are susceptible to natural and manmade disasters and coastal erosion.

The most distressing information was the revelation that some areas won’t be saved.

By 2030, the Gulf Coast is expected to lose $350 billion dollars worth of coastal assets, which includes capital investments, according to the Gulf Coast Adaptation Study by Entergy and America’s Wetland Foundation.

In Southwest Louisiana, the loss would be between $19 billion and $23 billion, said Dr. Robert Twilley, vice president of research at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“I can’t say what towns will or won’t be here, but we have to talk about what can be safeguarded realistically and what we can’t,” said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

“The conversation now has to be between the five states because of the leverage power,” said Gary Serio, vice president of corporate safety and environment for Entergy. “Taking it from a regional issue to a national agenda is the only way to get this done.”

Sidney Coffee with America’s Wetland Foundation outlined some of the studies and planning that was done before this series of meetings.

“A lot of what is suggested will be based on Deltas2010, where we looked at how similar ecosystems all over the world are faring and what the governments are doing,” Coffee said.

The conference took place in October 2010 in New Orleans and brought together more than 400 scientists, engineers and government officials from around the world.

Common problems include a need for comprehensive state and national preservation plans, a lack of political will to present the unpopular plans and a lack of urgency of the public.

A focus group of Southwest Louisiana residents expressed their frustration with the slow progress, or lack thereof, and a feeling of being disconnected from other parishes.

“Residents are also concerned about a loss of culture that goes with these areas,” said Val Marmillion, managing director of America’s Wetland Foundation.

Marmillion quoted focus groups members saying, “If you maintain the marsh, you maintain the culture (of hunting and fishing). If it goes away, so does the culture.”

Southwest Louisiana has made strides, with about $200 million in recovery projects that have been in place since Hurricane Rita struck in 2005, Marmillion said.

“Another issue with coastal deterioration is that some employers have had to leave Cameron and Vermillion parishes. This loss of infrastructure can put a strain on school systems,” Marmillion said.

The 14 meetings will take place in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida over the next 17 months.

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April 23, 2011 at 1:15 am

Feds: Clean up or say goodbye to land-based shrimping

*published Apr. 23. 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Federal officials said Tuesday that land-based cast netting for shrimp in Sabine Wildlife Refuge will end if issues over waste and illegal activities are not resolved.

The most-persistent issue is the wanton waste of fishery resources, said Don Voros, manager of the Cameron Prairie, Sabine, Lacassine and Shell Keys wildlife refuges.

Voros displayed photos of dead fish that he said are regularly left to rot, along with litter and discarded nets, on piers at Hog Island Gully Recreation Area. Hog Island Gully has been closed indefinitely to shrimping.

He said many shrimpers empty their nets on the piers instead of back into the water, which U.S. Fish and Wildlife agents prefer.

“Federal regulations require that by-catch is returned to the water immediately, but even dead fish should be thrown back as well,” Voros said.

He said agents have had to call the area fire department to hose down the piers because of flies and maggots that infest the area.

“If a conservation organization were to come here and see the piers like that, they could actually sue us for wanton waste of fishery resources because they would say we allowed that to happen,” Voros said.

Another major issue is an increase in the illegal sale of shrimp.

“Through the years, there has been a black market for shrimp coming from Sabine,” Voros said. He said the use of cell phones has contributed to an increase in the activity.

Multiple state and federal details and undercover operations, coupled with federal judges who impose fines of up to $5,000 and probation, have not been able to stop the activity, officials said.

Probation usually includes banning the offender from the refuge.

Officials outlined their Cast Netting Action Plan phases and the outcome of multiple efforts to increase compliance.

“We put out a variety of signs explaining regulations for limits, littering, etc. Someone eventually pulled one sign up and threw it in the canal,” said Terry Delaine, manager of Sabine Wildlife Refuge.

He said portable bathrooms and garbage cans had to be removed because they were always overflowing or vandalized.

“Uniformed and plain clothes officers try to patrol the areas regularly now,” Delaine said.

Volunteers, managers and biologists have to empty garbage cans and clean the piers because U.S. Fish and Wildlife cannot afford cleanup staff. Delaine said the refuges have almost a third fewer staff members than they had seven years ago.

The federal statute that regulates recreational activities on national wildlife refuges says the focus should be to foster appreciation and education, Voros said.

“Families can’t even take their kids out, and some said they don’t want to,” Delaine said.

“I can say most of us that work with fish and wildlife decided to do this because of the connections we made to the land crabbing and fishing, but this has gotten out of hand,” said Diane Bordon-Billiot, outreach specialist for the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “So we need people to convince us why land-based shrimping should be here.”

If land-based shrimping is closed, officials said they will open about 300 acres to boat cast netting, which would be allowed every day from sunrise to sunset.

About a dozen residents, along with volunteers from the organization Friends of SWLA National Wildlife Refuges, attended the meeting.

Many supported increased enforcement, which is not a current option for state and federal agents.

“I would like to see more enforcement, if possible. You should keep hammering them and put them under the jail. But we also need to get the community involved before we start talking about shutting everything down,” said Mike Cohler of Carlyss.

Comments will be accepted until Tuesday, April 12. Residents can mail letters or e-mail to terry_delaine@fws.gov.

Anyone who observes illegal activity can call a 24-hour dispatcher at 1-800-442-2511 who will contact state and federal wildlife agencies.

Friends of SWLA National Wildlife Refuges and Wetlands: Jerry Doucet jerdou317@outdrs.net or 582-6251

April 23, 2011 at 12:41 am

Outdoors: Hogs run wild in state

*published Apr. 4, 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Feral, or wild, hogs have been in Louisiana for years, but recently both state and federal wildlife officials say they have seen a dramatic increase in their population.

Hogs reproduce quickly and can begin breeding as early as 6 months of age. They have two litters each year of 10-to-12 piglets, said Fred Kimmel, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Wildlife Division’s education director.

They have no natural predators, which keeps their survival rate near 100 percent, he said.

An adult hog weighs about 200 pounds, but officials say some can be more than 400 pounds.

The LDWF says the animals are a nuisance to farmers, landowners and homeowners because they are omnivorous and use their snout to root for food underground.

They also carry diseases that can infest wildlife and damage wildlife habitats.

Feral hogs come out in both the day and nighttime, depending on the habitat, said Rob Gosnell, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“They have little to no contact with humans in the marsh, so they have no fear of being out in daylight hours,” Gosnell said. “A feral hog will take advantage of every opportunity provided by the environment of choice.”

The main indicator of feral hogs is their tracks. They are similar to deer, but hogs have rounded hooves.

LDWF classifies feral hogs as “outlaw quadrupeds” along with coyotes, armadillos and nutria. This means in Louisiana they can be harvested year-round.

Private landowners can hunt the hogs anytime. Anyone else hunting on the private land must have written permission from the landowner and their contact information.

Hunting clubs leasing corporate land must have written permission and each hunter’s name must be listed.

Nighttime shooting can take place until Aug. 30.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge officials are in the beginning phases of their feral hog management plan, which includes aerial gunning and nighttime hunting. No public hunting has been authorized yet.

Louisiana officials say trapping is the most effective control method and that multiple traps should be used.

Kimmel said anyone hunting hogs should make sure they have positively identified the animal because bears have a similar shape and size at night.

“When illuminated by light, bears’ eyes usually reflect light or glow gold to green. Hogs’ eyes will have little or no reflected light,” he said.

Kimmel said any successful control program will require a multifaceted approach and land biologists are available to assists landowners and managers.

For more information, call the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries in Lake Charles at 491-2585.

April 4, 2011 at 12:46 am

Marketing seen as key for Louisiana shrimpers

*published Apr. 4, 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Taking the helm of the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force, Mark Abraham said the board is facing a number of issues, with the most serious being marketing.

“We first need to decide if we are going to market as Louisiana shrimp or Gulf shrimp,’’ said Abraham, a managing partner of Gulf Island Shrimp and Seafood, a shrimp-processing company.

The task force would present suggestions to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

“I know they keep in touch with their counterparts in other states, but also private entrepreneurs, like the American Shrimp Processors Association are discussing it,” Abraham said.

Along with its regular budget, the board is also receiving about $30 million from BP over an 18-month period that will go towards seafood marketing.

Similar amounts will be given to states impacted by the April 20, 2010, oil spill.

Abraham said he believes the oil spill will be good for Gulf shrimpers.

“We now have the most tested shrimp in the world. And everything that’s been done shows that our shrimp and seafood are safe to eat,” Abraham said.

Abraham said he expects the task force to take a united stand.

“I spoke with Clint Guidry (president of the La. Shrimp Association and task force member) and he said, ‘Look, the main goal is to market so we sell more and you sell more,’ so I was glad he had that attitude,” Abraham said.

Abraham said he will suggest the multi-state approach because he’s seen it work before.

“As a member of the Wild American Shrimp board, we were able to get federal dollars to market shrimp for eight states,” Abraham said. “Our focus was to differentiate ourselves from the imported shrimp.

“We wanted them to know that wild-caught shrimp tasted better and didn’t have antibiotics that certain countries use in their hatcheries.’’

The organization was also instrumental in getting country-of-origin labels put on shrimp, Abraham said.

“I think most people assume, since they live in Louisiana, they must be eating Louisiana shrimp,” said Kevin Savoie, an area agent with he LSU AgCenter. “If you go to any large supermarket, you have to check the label.”

Savoie said at restaurants, patrons should also ask because larger chains may not use locally caught seafood.

“About 90 percent of what we consume in the U.S. is imported,” Savoie said.

Americans consume about 1.3 billion pounds of shrimp each year, with about 200 million pounds coming from Gulf and south Atlantic waters, according to the American Shrimp Processors Association.

American shrimpers have been able to regain more market share thanks to anti-dumping tariffs set in 2006 by the International Trade Commission.

The tariffs were placed on Brazil, China, India, Thailand and Vietnam after shrimpers and shrimp processors sued the countries when imports increased about 30 percent between 2001 and 2003.

The tariffs reduced import shrimp market share from 59 percent to 46 percent and the ITC recently renewed the tariffs for another five years.

Two issues remain with the tariffs. During the first five years, shrimpers and shrimp processors got a percentage of the tariffs, which they used for marketing.

“This renewal of the tariff is just that,” Abraham said. “The shrimpers and processor associations spent millions on the lawsuit, but now all of the money from the tariffs go to the federal government.”

Abraham said Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter have teamed with senators in seven other states to lobby for a percentage of the money to go back to the states for marketing.

During the February hearings before the ITC renewal, the Times-Picayune newspaper reported that Landrieu took Customs and Border Protection to task for not properly collecting tariffs.

A 2010 customs report said there were about $14 million in uncollected tariffs on shrimp and crawfish. Landrieu said an audit by her office of 2008 tariffs showed they missed almost $42 million that year.

Attorneys for the American Shrimp Processing Association also said international seafood companies often changed their names or changed the nation of origin to a country not covered by the tariff.

Landrieu asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to respond in writing on how her department would handle the problems.

Abraham said the first task force meeting will be April 21, and other issues will include developing a sustainability program for shrimping.

April 4, 2011 at 12:44 am

Coroner’s Office now has on-site morgue

*published Apr. 1, 2011
BY VANESSA C. DEGGINS

Mike Richardson, CEO of Mortuary Response Solutions, demonstrates a portable cooling system for area coroners and law enforcement officials on Thursday that can be used in the event of mass casualties. (BRAD PUCKETT / AMERICAN PRESS)

The Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office unveiled a portable cooling system Thursday that would allow them to set up an on-site morgue during an emergency.

The system is a set of refrigerated mats that go in a body bag, along with the body, to lower the temperature to around 38 degrees.

“It’s not designed for long-term storage, just to help a coroner’s office or hospital get organized during and after an emergency,” said Zeb Johnson, lead investigator with the Calcasieu Coroner’s Office.

Johnson said the coroner’s office can hold 25 to 30 bodies and the system would double their capacity.

“During (Hurricanes) Rita, Katrina and Ike, hospital morgues weren’t functioning,” Johnson said. “Local coroners were overwhelmed and had to bring in refrigerated 18-wheelers.”

Some benefits to getting the body temperature lowered as quickly as possible include stopping post-mortem purging of bodily fluids and a deterioration of body structure and fingerprints, said Michael Richardson, CEO of Mortuary Response Solutions, the company that developed the mats.

Richardson emphasized that the system did not stop decomposition; it just slows the process.

Johnson, who also runs a local funeral home, said getting the body in the least decomposed state is always helpful when embalming.

The system was purchased with a $24,000 grant from U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals and is available to any coroner’s office in Southwest Louisiana.

Also Thursday, inside the coroner’s office, coroners and public health officials from the region took part in a mock drill to test the new portable morgue. The mock emergency was a tornado touching down in Beauregard Parish and 75 to 100 bodies had to be salvaged, said Liz Harmon, coordinator for Region 4 and 5’s Hospital Preparedness Program.

“We are testing how local hospitals will handle a large number of bodies coming into their emergency rooms and what kind of coordination they have with their coroner’s offices,” Harmon said.

April 1, 2011 at 12:49 am