Barataria crabber isn’t giving up

A large majority of Louisiana’s crabs comes from the waters of the Barataria Estuary, situated between the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche. Scott Sugasti has been on those waters working his traps since an early age, and as one of the younger crabbers on the bayou he knows hard work is the key to success.

Since Hurricane Ida he has had to work harder at avoiding numerous pitfalls the storm has caused for local fishermen.

Now 23, he started crabbing on his own at the age of 13, never afraid to be alone on the water. While in high school he would get up at the crack of dawn and head out in his boat.

Taking a break from working the crab dock, Scott Sugasti says he has been on the water since he was in diapers. Image: Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News

‘I used to go before and after school.  I would wake up at three in the morning all the time and head out to run my traps.’

Over the years he has started and stopped a number of times, but it became his daily occupation when he bought his first boat from his grandfather, Jimmy Matherne, two years ago.

Ida and Its Debris

Both the boat and Scott Sugasti survived Hurricane Ida, but the storm has left behind a swathe of unseen problems, mostly hidden under the murky waters of the bayous and canals.

‘I’m over here at the crab dock helping the guys out,’ he explained. ‘I’m just trying to work while I’m out of work.’

This happened after his boat hit debris in the water, bending the shaft and motor unit causing more the $600 in damage.

Sugasti started crabbing on his own at the age of 13, never afraid to be alone on the water. While in high school he would get up at the crack of dawn and head out in his boat. Photo: Scott Sugasti

‘I’m must trying to make some money.  Basically I take crabs out of the boat, bring the to the front, pack them, put them in boxes and have them sent off.’

He says since the storm, seafood businesses along the bayou are having a hard time finding labor. During his shift he will unload more than 25 boats tying up to the dock. Besides the damage to his boat, Hurricane Ida has cost him other expenses.

‘I’ve lost money because of the storm, more than 100 traps are gone. I am just trying to rebuild what I had before,’ he said, commenting that debris in the bayous and smaller canals is a huge problem.

‘Its bad, very bad out there. The problem is that it’s all under the water. You can’t see it. None of it is marked because none of it was there before the hurricane,’ he said.

‘I had one of my friends call me and asked if I was on my boat. He needed help. He was right here in Bayou Barataria and was caught up on a boat trailer. That bayou is 30 feet deep. You can imagine how much stuff had to be stacked up just for him reach that. There are still boats sunk in the middle of the bayou.’

Entrepreneurial Youth

After the last winds of Ida lay quiet, Scott Sugasti purchased a small shrimp boat to fish the inland waters of the bay.

‘Fishermen were routinely catching 10,000lbs of shrimp after the storm. I bought the boat because I knew I could make money. When the State closed shrimping in the bay I sold the boat.’

Scott visits with his grandfather Michael Roberts, a longtime Barataria crabber and fisherman. Image: Ed Lallo/Gulf Seafood News

He doesn’t see the greying of the fleet in Lafitte. He says a lot of kids he went to school with entering crabbing, as well as other aspects of fishing.

‘There are fishermen out there older than me, and there are some out there younger than me. It’s not like there are only old people that do this. Around here it gets passed down from generation to generation,’ he explained.

‘It’s something you have to be raised with because it is a lot of work,” the crabber said. “If you aren’t raised with it you aren’t going to love it enough to do it. There are plenty of people down here who have lived with the water their entire lives and do know how to do it. They are fine with the amount of work it takes. That whole greying of the fleet thing, I don’t see that here.’

Scott with his younger brother Brandon at the dock. Image: Scott Sugasti

His wants to see a more united Louisiana fishing community because he believes it would make the industry stronger and command better prices for their fish.

‘There are a lot of fishermen that don’t think it’s going to make a difference,’ he said. ‘They come from a generation that were really clannish; only caring about their bayou, not the next one over.  Fishermen will organise around an issue, but then that eventually fade away.’

‘Nobody is going to throw their time into an organisation or commit to a group where they have to have meetings every week, or have to drive across the state, if nothing is going to happen. You see how hard we work, and we aren’t rich. We can’t take that kind of time if it’s not going to do anything.’

He said there is a vacuum of support outside the industry.  If fishermen are to become more united, someone with some kind of power needs stand up and do something for Louisiana’s fishermen. According Scott Sugasti, fishery disaster funds allocated by Congress have not reached any fishermen in his local community.

‘There are a lot a grants that are suppose to go to fishermen that we don’t get.  There was money after the hurricane that was supposes to go to fishermen; a lot of them never got any of that.  We always seem to get left out.’