State fishermen upset Mississippi jobs going to Alabama boats

Published 7:45 pm Friday, August 11, 2006

Some out-of-work Mississippi fisherman are upset that jobs in their home waters are going to out-of-state boats.

A majority of boats working on cleanup projects this week under a Coast Guard contract issued in July for shallow-water cleanup along the state’s Gulf Coast were from Alabama, not Mississippi, an official with one of two company’s conducting the work said.

“There’s a misconception that Mississippians are doing the cleanup, but Alabamans are doing it,” said Eddie Rhodes, a St. Martin commercial fisherman. “We were led to believe we were supposed to do this. Now here’s all these Mississippians sitting on the seawall watching Alabamans doing the work.”

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The cleanup contract went to Matthews Marine of Pass Christian and Gulf Equipment of Theodore, Ala.

The Matthews Marine project manager for the debris removal said five of the 14 boats working Wednesday and seven of 16 boats working Thursday were from Mississippi. Todd Puckett said Matthews would also be hiring unemployed Mississippi fishermen for projects at the Bay St. Louis Bridge and in Gulfport.

A spokesman for Gulf Equipment was not available.

The state Department of Marine Resources sent Matthews Marine a list of 300 Mississippi fisherman interested in work when the contract was awarded in July.

Irvin Jackson, the Marine Resources staff officer coordinating the cleanup, said at the time he expected the work to be done by Mississippi fisherman. A Matthews Marine owner also expressed interest in hiring Mississippi crews for the cleanup.

But when Denise Hopper counted boats earlier this week, she said she found 11 of 14 boats working on the project were from Alabama. Hopper, who works for the Grand Bature Seafood oyster processor, said it should have been easy to find enough Mississippi fishermen to fill out the employment ranks.

“If they are only hiring 14 boats, they could have gotten them all from Mississippi,” Hopper said. “Fishermen in Mississippi should have the opportunity to get the job first, then go to Alabama if you can’t fill all the spots.”