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With fishing grounds closed by Gulf oil spill, what's a shrimper to do?

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"Nobody knows what's going to happen with this," says Terry. "This has never happened before."

Idled during what would normally be the start of their busiest season, shrimpers are filling their days with busywork: converting their boats for boom work, making little repairs they otherwise wouldn't have time for, and stocking up on supplies to be ready if they're called to work for BP.

"It's either that or nothing," says Terry, who took training classes a week ago but hasn't gotten a call.

Anxiety over a lack of work has been heightened by the past five years, which have been tough for Louisiana shrimpers. Katrina led to a near collapse in shrimp prices, attributable partly to cheap foreign imports. A pound of shrimp that sold for $3.25 before Katrina went for as little as 50 cents last season.

"If we had been getting good prices, we wouldn't be so worried about the oil spill," says Terry, who started shrimping at age 16.

Still, on his only run of the season before the spill closed the Gulf, Terry brought in $16,000 worth of shrimp on a six-day haul to Breton Sound. And many shrimpers don't have a Plan B. "Shrimping is all we know," Terry says. "I couldn't tell you what a job application looks like. This contract with BP is the first one I've ever signed. We'll do the best we can."

But the drawn-out nature of the disaster seems to be taking its toll. Across the docks at Dean Blanchard Seafood, Dean Blanchard talks with several local shrimpers, as sunburned fishermen come to an office window to pick up what might be one of their few checks of the season.

Mr. Blanchard has never laid off workers in his 25 years of business. But he plans to do so soon.

"I'm 51 years old, and for the first time in my life I woke up yesterday morning and looked out my window at the water and saw one trawler out there working," he says. "All because the oil company wanted to save money on a $500,000 valve."

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