Pass Christian, Mississippi – I met retired shrimper Percy Bradley, of Long Beach, in the Pass Christian harbor, talking to the friend that bought Bradley’s boat, which was built for him in 1983.
Bradley’s wife has been very ill for two years and Percy says he has cared for her at least 20 hours a day. One of their daughters drops by during the week to give Percy a little time off. But today was Saturday and he had to hire a person to spend time with his wife, although Bradley believes she is far more healthy now than she realizes. The two years of severe illness have taken a toll on how she thinks about herself.
It seem obvious Bradley, who soon will turn 70, misses his years on the water, although at first he denied it. He had told me the price of gasoline was a key factor. On a typical day, at current shrimp prices, his catch wouldn’t cover fuel costs, he added.
But he later conceded if his wife were well and the if the profit was adequate he would probably still own the boat and work the long hours he had become accustomed to over so many years.
There is shallow water and an oyster bed a few miles off shore that is overfished. But when he was a shrimper he did drag an oyster drudge to scrape oysters off the bottom. There are just too many people doing that, “but you’ve got to feed your family somehow,” Bradley noted.
And until his became ill he was able to make a comfortable living by working late into the night. He would fish until he had to come in for ice, and then go out again.
When he started fishing years ago gasoline was just 17¢ a gallon.
“Now fuel eats up all the profit.”
After Katrina hit the area shrimpers were required to move their boats from Gulfport to Pass Christian. Part of the reason is that large boats involved in shipping dock at Gulfport. However, the Pass Christian shrimper fleet also has a long bayou where they can go to survive a hurricane.
The other serious difficulty he faced while shrimping was the BP oil spill. He was treated well by BP because he had more than 30 years of tax returns to prove what he normally earned. So the huge oil company gave him a “good amount” that he is now able to use for his retirement.
Other fishermen without adequate documentation didn’t fare so well.
Those who fish for blue crabs were badly hurt by the oil spill. There is still a lot of oil down at the bottom of the Gulf, he notes, and he would see globs of oil floating in the water. So he predicts the oil problem is still there to haunt fishermen in the future.
But, as he turns 70, he no longer has to work seven days a week, thanks to the BP settlement. That settlement money also has made it possible to devote himself to his ailing wife.