In Houma, Louisiana, the Captain of the 63-foot steel hull trawler, Waymaker, looks relaxed and carefree as he holds Amelie, his first grandchild born in February 2012. The hard economic realities facing shrimp fishermen seem far behind James Blanchard as he talks about his two daughters and son.
“This little girl trumps Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, the cheap, illegal imports—everything,” boasts Blanchard. “I will keep on fighting for my livelihood tomorrow, but today, I am just Paw-Paw.”
James and his wife of 33 years, Cheri, reside in Houma, Louisiana. They moved to the area in 1993 to escape the frequent flooding from hurricanes that affect Chauvin, his native town located 20 miles south. Most recently, Hurricanes Ike and Rita severely flooded the nearby Chauvin and Bayou Little Calliou areas where James docks his boat and most of his family resides.
While raised in the heart of the nation’s most productive shrimping community, James did not grow up on a shrimping boat. Born as one of ten children to Junius, the local mailman, and his wife, Leona, he came to discover the rewards of being a fisherman in middle school.
“My Mom and Dad took me to Lake Pelto for my first shrimping trip when I was thirteen years old. It was on their little wood hull trawler,” said Blanchard. “I decided then that I was going to be a fisherman.”
Immediately after high school, he began working as a deckhand, then progressed to captain on other vessels until he was able to acquire the Waymaker in 2001, through a lease purchase agreement.
He had always dreamed of being a boat owner, but unfortunately, it coincided with an increase in unfairly traded imported shrimp that resulted in a severe drop in dockside prices. James saw the need for an industry group to represent Louisiana and U.S. shrimpers’ interests. His determination to address problems threatening his life’s work lead James to get involved with the Southern Shrimp Alliance.
Since that time, he has been an active advocate on behalf of the fishery. He has served on the board of the SSA since 2010, worked in the first Task Force deployed to clean up oil during the Deepwater Horizon spill, and in 2011, he testified before the International Trade Commission to request extension of tariffs imposed on shrimp imports from Asia and South American countries until 2016.
As SSA representatives from Louisiana, James and his family hosted the 2011 Capitol Hill Shrimp Boil, a regular event that allows representatives of the shrimp industry in eight states to enjoy U.S. wild-caught shrimp with their elected officials and regulators in Washington, DC. During their trip, they also had the opportunity to speak directly to all of the Louisiana legislators about continuing their support of the shrimp industry and working closely with the SSA.
“It was a great experience for my family. We participated directly in the democratic process by bringing issues affecting hundreds of thousands of families like mine directly to those who can address the problems,” stated Blanchard. “But I think what I enjoyed most was showcasing our great catch and some of my favorite recipes at the Shrimp Boil.”
Cheri, James’s wife of 33 years, is very supportive of James’s involvement in the Southern Shrimp Alliance and has always played an active part in the family shrimp business. She is currently employed as a Business Service Representative with Louisiana Workforce Commission.
“It is hard work to be a shrimp fisherman. It is still rewarding to pull the best-tasting shrimp from our waters, but it is not as profitable today as when I dreamed of being a boat owner. Given the constant economic challenges facing our industry, I am glad my children have chosen meaningful work outside of the shrimping business,” explained Blanchard.
Sadie Blanchard, their oldest daughter, is a 2010 Yale Law School graduate, and is currently serving as law clerk to Judge Charles Brower on the Iran-US Claims Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. She’s worked in international law in public and private organizations worldwide and has several publications on the subject. She is married to Brendan Bridgford, a 2012 graduate of London Business School.
Jonah Blanchard is a 2009 graduate of Nicholls State University with a BS in Business Administration and is currently working at Wild Well Control as Logistics Coordinator. He recently purchased his first home.
Sara Blanchard Verdin is a School Psychologist, graduating from Nicholls State University in 2011. She is married to Jarred Verdin, who is employed as a foreman on the L/B Robert, the world’s largest liftboat. Their latest and greatest achievement is their beautiful daughter Amelie Hope Verdin. She is the pride and joy of the whole family.