‘Sixteen years ago to the date Hurricane Katrina gave a knock-out blow, followed quickly by Hurricane Ike,’ he explained. Back then he served as executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.
‘Besides damaging boats and seafood plants, those two storms knocked out every ice house in the state. We realised to get the fishermen back on the water, we needed to quickly rebuild the ice houses.’
Along with fellow Gulf Seafood Foundation board member Harlon Pearce, who served as chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Board during Katrina, Ewell Smith heads the Helping Hands committee responsible for helping find funds and resources for the state’s seafood industry.
‘After Katrina our organisation raised a million dollars for the fishermen,’ said Harlon Pearce who owns Harlon’s LA Fish in New Orleans.
‘A majority of those funds came from corporate donations, especially Shell Oil. With that money we were able to get new icehouses online and the fishermen on the water. With the destruction from Ida, we don’t need one Shell Oil, we need another and another and other if our seafood community is to fully recover.’
The entire Gulf of Mexico seafood industry has been hard hit by lower seafood demand during Covid-19 as the pandemic shut restaurants.
‘This is just a bad time to be on the bayou it seems,’ said Venice shrimper Acy Cooper, a member of the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force.
‘Before the storm we were being hit hard by Covid. Covid is still here, but now we have to face the difficulties brought on by Ida,’ he said, adding that he has been fortunate compared to those to the east of him.
‘Here in Venice, we lost three or four shrimp boats, but over in Chauvin and Dulac, it’s more like half that fleet. People have lost their homes, their boats. They don’t have power, gas or food. These are people that aren’t going to ask for anything, but let me tell you they need it, and they need it now.’
The Foundation has been working hard to get ice and supplies to where they are needed. According to board member Jim Gossen, ‘it’s overwhelming the number of people affected.’
‘We have to facilitate ice supplies to the Leonard J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma, an Ochsner Health hospital, where volunteers distribute to public,’ he said.
‘We also have been instrumental in getting ice to Venice and other cities. Right now, we are acting as a clearing house putting those in need with those who have. This is always what our organisation has done best.’
Ewell Smith and Harlon Pearce see the task they face as daunting, but they feel the Gulf Seafood Foundation is up for the challenge.
‘We have been here before and we know where to go to get the support we need,’ Ewell Smith said.
‘There are many good people and corporations out there willing and ready to help. It is not about us. We are willing to work with anyone. It is all about those in need.’
‘I’m coming back, but right now most aren’t,’ Acy Cooper said. ‘We need food, generators, fuel and of course ice. We also need more doctors and nurses, as well as mental health professionals because as we learned after Katrina, storms like this take a mental toll on everyone.’