Business Melts Away For Gulf Coast Ice Houses

Machines at Huey Ice Company have slowed due to less demand for ice.
Machines at Huey Ice Company have slowed due to less demand for ice. Yuki Noguchi/NPR

Along the Gulf Coast, shrimpers and fishermen are losing work, as well as the companies that support them. Ice houses are among the many businesses being affected by the oil spill.

A bayou snakes alongside a flat, humid stretch of road in Dulac, La. Five miles away, the waterway connects to the Gulf of Mexico.

The area is a staging ground for oil companies like Halliburton and ConocoPhillips. And it's home to seafood processors and ice houses like Huey Ice Company.

Marty Theriot's office looks like a relic. There are swimsuit calendars from the 1990s on the wall. Framed photos are warped from heat and age.

"That's my father in law," says Theriot, pointing to a picture on the wall. "He's the owner."

For 35 years this has been a family owned and operated business. Adjacent to the office, there is a giant refrigeration room at least 30 feet tall.

"This is the storage bin," Theriot says. "I usually have it all the way to the top."

But right now the ice inside is only about 4 feet high.

"I'm making as less as possible," Theriot says. "Trying to save money. I just make a little ice during the day, so I can sell them ... to keep my doors open. Just made a batch of ice."

This year, the Monday after Mother's Day was supposed to mark the start of Theriot's busiest season.

"We worked all day Saturday," Theriot says. "Then we get a telephone call saying they just closed the shrimp season because there's oil coming into the coast."

Instantly, 90 percent of Theriot's customers stopped fishing, and therefore buying ice.

"When shrimping is good and there's no oil in the water," Theriot says the plant run 24 hours a day.

He would usually make about 90,000 pounds of ice a day but right now, he's hardly making any.

He filed for compensation from BP but has not heard back.

Outside Huey's, the waters are quiet. Dozens of boats idle at their docks on the bayou.

"If the shrimpers go down, we going down with them," Theriot says. "Everyone down here from the processors to the shrimp buyers, we all work hand-in-hand. If the guys do not go to get shrimp, fish, oysters or crabs, we all go down together."

Just then customer James Laughlin pulls up in his shrimping boat. Not for ice but to buy gas.

Inside the office is Theriot's nephew Matthew Champagne, who hopes to take over the business someday. He collects Laughlin's payment.

"They used to give us credit," Laughlin says "But they don't give us credit no more because they can't take a chance."

A half mile down from Huey's, is another ice house Anchor Ice and Fuel, but no one seems to be around.

Drew Sawyer stands nearby. His boat is tied up at the ice house's dock but he's not there to buy ice.

"They haven't been open in a month." Sawyer says. "Maybe longer than a month. They were working on it ... did their spring cleaning and all. But, the oil got 'em I guess."

Sawyer says he's headed to the western waters of Texas, where he can still shrimp. He's not sure when he'll be back to shrimp in these waters. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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