D. Ditcharo Seafood
When a big storm begins angling toward the Gulf Coast, many fishermen and seafood processors in south Louisiana start thinking worst-case scenario. It's a natural reaction for people who earn their living by supplying some of the world's most popular seafood for dining tables across the country.
As owners of one of the region's most prominent shrimp suppliers, brothers Dominique and Derek Ditcharo play a big role in the industry. From their dock in Buras, La., D. Ditcharo Seafood LLC buys and sells close to five million pounds of shrimp annually. So when a storm shuts down Gulf fishing operations, or worse yet, if a storm strikes and damages their dockside facility, the Ditcharos face potentially steep losses, as they did when Hurricane Katrina destroyed the dock in 2005.
With financial help from various sources, the family rebuilt the dock after that disaster, but subsequent years brought more storms. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck the coast within weeks of one another in 2008, wreaking havoc on fishing operations and producing power outages that lasted for weeks.
"We needed help but I didn't know who to go to," Dominque Ditcharo says. That changed when Ditcharo met Sandy Nguyen, a Business Consultant with the Louisiana Small Business Development Center Greater New Orleans Region, who specializes in working with fishermen and seafood businesses.
Nguyen was already well known among the Buras area fishermen when she introduced herself to Ditcharo, and they quickly became business allies. "It turned into a very good relationship," he says.
Nguyen walked Ditcharo through the process of filling out applications for disaster assistance through the state of Louisiana, and she helped him understand the importance of keeping careful records that would help him document his losses in the event of future storms.
"There are certain documents required in order to get disaster grants and loans, and now that I know these things, I always try to have these records available," Ditcharo says.
Nguyen visited Ditcharo repeatedly after Gustav and Ike to answer his questions and make sure he completed the applications. She also discussed with him the need to have a disaster preparation, or business continuity, plan that would help prevent steep losses during inevitable future storms.
"I learned to set deadlines," Ditcharo says, recalling his predicament years earlier when the company bought $100,000 worth of shrimp shortly before a storm struck the coast. When the storm closed roads and knocked out electrical power, customers who regularly buy product from him were nowhere to be found.
He took a nearly total loss on the shrimp and says it won't happen again. Now, when a storm threatens, he says, "We cut off buying early and tell the boats to come in and hunker down."
Nguyen says the various pieces of the seafood industry are so interdependent that one cannot survive without another. "If the shrimpers can't work, for instance, the shrimp processor has no supply," she says.
For that reason, Nguyen tries to address the needs of all the businesses in the area, and not just those that have sought assistance. She's a frequent visitor to the fishing docks, not just after a disaster but between storm events as well. And her message is always the same: "The more prepared you are the better your chances of recovery."
In 2010, the Gulf of Mexico experienced the worst oil spill in U.S. history when a well owned by BP PLC exploded off Louisiana's coast. The disaster not only brought oil drilling to a near halt, but also shut down almost every segment of the coastal seafood business. Once again, the livelihoods of fishermen and business owners were threatened, but Nguyen says "her" businesses were ready.
"When the BP spill came along, my clients got their paperwork together and they were ready to get started," she says. "I was really proud of them."
For more information on emergency preparedness, visit www.lsbdc.org or contact LSBDC GNOR at (504) 831-3730 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The LSBDC is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Louisiana Department of Economic Development, and participating universities. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.