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Gulf Coast Seafood Industry Still Waiting for Relief

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Budget battles on Capitol Hill have tied up tens of billions of dollars in federal spending. The funds on hold would support programs ranging from buying bulletproof vests for local police to medical research to helping hurricane-damaged businesses along the Gulf Coast. Included is nearly a billion dollars to rebuild the seafood industry in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Mike Voisin is CEO of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana, as well as chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Taskforce. We spoke to him yesterday about efforts to get help from the federal government and on the progress the seafood industry is making to recover from hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Mr. MIKE VOISIN (CEO, Motivatit Seafoods): We still have, in terms of the harvest vessels, a lot of them are still on shore, have not been re-floated. We have an infrastructure on shore of docks, marinas, unloading facilities, ice plants, things like that, that have been basically destroyed and are not yet being rebuilt.

Some of the areas have been cleared in terms of the debris, but there's no rebuilding energies at this point. So we're challenged from the harvest level, with oyster silt on the water bottoms, through the processing level, where a lot of those plants were knocked down as well.

HANSEN: So how much money are we talking about that you would have received for your industry?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, we're requesting in the neighborhood, and in the bill that's currently being discussed in Congress, about a billion dollars. We're asking for a billion to go through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to give the fishing communities in the Gulf kind of a hand up so that we can get the economic engine going, the boats that go back to work, to have a place to unload their products, we can process it and distribute it.

You know, what defines us is how well we rise after falling and these funds can help us accomplish that. There're a lot of needy people here that hopefully won't lose hope. You know, I was concerned, originally, after the hurricanes that the harvesters would lose their calluses on their hands if we didn't get busy giving them that hand up. This is a fourth supplemental for Katrina relief and Rita relief and Wilma relief. And we've seen not one penny go to the fishing rehabilitation efforts.

HANSEN: Let me ask you, how are you getting ready for the beginning of hurricane season? It's only a couple of weeks away.

Mr. VOISIN: Well, we're praying a lot. That's really the bottom line. We're actually putting in place kind of a disaster plan. We're still working hard on our recovery plans from last year. Again, last year we had the Goliath of hurricanes. We didn't have a normal hurricane. Katrina and Rita were Goliaths. And hopefully, this year, if we have any that come into the Gulf, which we're assuming we will, they'll be more the thin-sliced variety of hurricanes, where they impact much smaller areas.

HANSEN: Mike Voisin is CEO of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana. He's also chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Taskforce. Mike, thanks a lot.

Mr. VOISIN: Thank you, Liane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.