“Big Shrimp Family” in Florida left homeless by Hurricane Ian

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla., Oct 7 (Reuters) – Ricky Moran, a shrimp fisherman who worked and slept on the boat he commanded from Fort Myers Beach, lost both a secure livelihood and a safe place to live, as Hurricane Ian swept southwest Florida, destroying the trawler it calls home.

The Category 4 storm lifted the craft from its moorings as if it were a toy, leaving it in a twisted heap along with half a dozen other battered boats, most of which were tossed on their sides or with their hulls pointing skyward back on the shore. Moran now finds himself without a safe place to live or means to earn a living.

It’s a plight shared by dozens of others who work on trawlers that navigate the warm waters of the Gulf off Southwest Florida in search of shrimp, a vital industry in a region best known for tourism.

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“This isn’t my first rodeo, but I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I’ve never seen shrimp boats being tossed like that,” he said, pointing to a tangle of damaged boats that Ian had left behind, killing more than 100 people in Florida and causing tens of billions of dollars in property damage.

Southwest Florida is the center of the state’s shrimp industry. Trawlers off Fort Myers Beach and other area port cities net the crustaceans for sale to restaurants, grocery chains, and direct to consumers.

Lee County trawlers, which includes Fort Myers Beach, caught 3.9 million pounds of pink shrimp worth $12.5 million in 2021, or 43% of the state’s total catch, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Moran said he stayed on board his boat during the storm and spent a harrowing night in which a colleague had half his finger chopped off when the wind slammed a door shut.

The 150 mph winds and massive storm surge quickly swept the trawlers across the dock where they crashed into each other.

Luckily, Moran said, every Fort Myers Beach shrimp worker he knows survived.

A week after Ian, Moran was still sleeping on his damaged boat. Every morning since the storm, he has climbed over the wreck and crawled through an opening between two other vessels to take pity on other shrimp workers at the marina.

About 60 of them live on their damaged boats or in tents, without toilets and showers and in search of food and water.

Sherwin Beters, 40, from Guyana in South America, fears he won’t be eligible for government aid because he’s in the United States on a work visa. About 20 other Guyana shrimp fishermen are stuck in the same situation in Fort Myers Beach, he said.

“Sleeping on the boat is an opportunity that we are taking because all boats could now crash and overturn at any time,” said Beters.

In good times, shrimp fishermen work short-term, with a captain and two riggers sharing a portion of the earnings from the boat, which is usually owned by a company, Moran said. He planned to go to Mobile, Alabama – another shrimp fishing center in the Gulf – in hopes of finding work there.


Two companies, Erickson & Jensen Seafood and Trico Shrimp Co, own most of the boats in Fort Myers Beach and employ about 300 people, said Anna Erickson, whose family owns part of Erickson & Jensen. Only three of her company’s eleven boats are still afloat.

“We’re a big shrimp family,” said Erickson, 36. “These people are lifesavers. It’s really a tragedy.”

It will cost “a lot of money” to fix the dock and get the boats back on the water, she said.

Many of the boats, some of which are 60 feet long, were uninsured because the premiums are prohibitively expensive, said Joel Andrews, 66, part of the Jensen family, which partly owns Erickson & Jensen.

Michele Bryant, 58, who cooks and picks shrimp on the boats, slept outdoors at the marina until she found a tent this week. She doesn’t want to check into an animal shelter because her belongings are still on a boat.

“Most people have a home,” she said. “We don’t have houses. We live on the boats.”

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Reporting by Rod Nickel at Fort Myers Beach; additional coverage by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Edited by Frank McGurty and Diane Craft

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

rod nickel

Thomson Reuters

Covers energy, agriculture and politics in Western Canada, with a major focus on the energy transition. Has done brief reports in Afghanistan, Pakistan, France, and Brazil, covering Hurricane Michael in Florida, Tropical Storm Nate in New Orleans, and the 2016 Alberta wildfires, as well as the campaign trails of political leaders during two Canadian campaigns.

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