Alabama Gulf Seafood Industry Braves the Storm

When word hit Alabama’s Gulf Coast that Hurricane Isaac was on its way, coastal residents didn’t panic—they prepared.

Severe weather is no stranger to Alabama, so those living in and around the Mobile Bay area did everything they could to safeguard their pets and possessions before heading out of town to stay with loved ones or braving the storm on their own.

But for those who work in the Alabama Gulf Seafood industry, the severe weather protocol was a bit different. Ernie Anderson, operator of Graham Shrimp Company in Bayou La Batre, wasn’t only responsible for his family; he had to look after a fleet of shrimp boats. In fact, that’s step one in preparing for a hurricane.

“The first thing that you start seeing is the vessels coming in,” said Anderson. “Then we start preparing and moving product. The main thing is getting that product moved to a facility, regardless of whether the storm comes or not. It’s a massive project.”

Storing fresh seafood in a safe environment is an undertaking that affects seafood retailers throughout Alabama’s Gulf Coast whenever a storm hits. And the key to survival is maintaining power. For Gary Skinner, owner of Skinner Seafood on Dauphin Island, priority number one was making sure a working generator was in order. “The main thing we do is keep a stand-by generator, and we make sure it’s operational,” said Skinner. “We have the latest thing out, and we test it once a week. We can run for about a month on that without having to use shore power.”

Because severe weather can hit at any moment, being well prepared is the name of the game for folks in the seafood industry. For those like Anderson that are in charge of large fleets of ships, that can be quite a task—but it can also be a blessing in disguise. “One advantage we do have here over other areas is that, after a storm, I’ve got ten boats sitting at the dock with an average of 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel each if we need it,” said Anderson. “That’s why I have a vehicle that operates on diesel.”

After all of the necessary precautionary measures have been taken to make sure the boats are safely docked and the seafood is safely on ice, there’s not much that retailers and fishermen can do but wait. But it’s an event that’s become routine for those in the seafood industry.

“Just about every year, we have some occasion that causes the fleet itself to come in and evacuate the Gulf,” said Anderson. And it came as no surprise that Hurricane Isaac picked Labor Day to make its presence felt.

“We’ve had two normal Labor Days in eight years when there wasn’t some sort of tropical system that messed up our week,” Skinner added.

Once the storm passed, it was back to business as usual—though not right away. “Bayou La Batre had some water on the roads,” Anderson recalled.

“But it still took me about three days afterwards before I could start offloading product and servicing my accounts. After a day or two, you just get everything cleaned as fast as you can.”

It’s all something that seafood industry workers have to take in stride. Storms come through every year, and every coastal seafood business takes some sort of loss due to loss of power, cancelled vacations and evacuated residents.

But it’s also the sort of thing that can really bring the community together. Skinner, for instance, has one of the best generators on Dauphin Island, so he does everything he can to help the rest of the community when the power is out.

“We’ve got enough freezer space and cooler space to where we try and help everybody out so they won’t lose their product,” said Skinner. “If we do have a storm and the power is out for several days, we actually make ice and give it to people in the community.”

That’s what makes the Alabama Gulf Seafood industry workers such a dynamic group: flawless preparation, unbridled grit, a willingness to help each other out when the going gets tough. And a commitment to providing fresh seafood at all costs.

Photo courtesy of the Mobile Press-Register.