Louisiana Seafood Industry Benefits from Guest-Worker Program

February 9, 2016

Congress’ decision to quadruple the size of a guest-worker program might be described as a gift to Louisiana’s seafood processing industry, which struggles to fill the seasonal jobs each year.

The LSU AgCenter says about 60 Louisiana seafood processing facilities hire more than 2,000 guest workers each year to peel crawfish and shrimp, shuck oysters and filet fish. Most of the workers come from Mexico and Central America and work 60 hours a week for a few months.

In Louisiana, the top guest-worker jobs include landscaping, packers and packaging, forestry and conservation, construction, and production helpers.

Ben LeGrange, general manager of Atchafalaya Crawfish Processing in Henderson, tells The Advocate the plant typically hires 50 or 60 guest workers a season, mainly women who peel crawfish.

According to the LSU AgCenter, about 60 Louisiana seafood processing facilities hire more than 2,000 guest workers each year to peel crawfish and shrimp, shuck oysters and filet fish. Most of the workers come from Mexico and Central America and work 60 hours a week for a few months.

The processing season may last from about March to June, where the crawfish season can run November to July, LeGrange said. The processing time varies from season to season, depending on what’s being produced by farmers and fishermen.

“You really have trouble finding local help because it’s erratic. It’s not a set, defined time period,” LeGrange said.

David Veal, executive director of the American Shrimp Processors Association, said all the processors really want is a stable program where the rules don’t change from month to month or administration to administration.

Many processors in rural areas have trouble getting a consistent supply of labor, although that may not be a problem in Louisiana, at least this year, because of the oil patch’s downturn.

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