News Briefs

Katrina's impact on seafood and Murphy Oil comes to Lafayette.


The potential economic impact of losses to the commercial and recreational seafood industries in Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina could reach up to $1.6 billion over the next 12 months, according to a preliminary draft report by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. While officials still need to conduct comprehensive assessments on the water and from the air, experts are already concerned that some commercial anglers will exit the trade as cheaper imports flood the market. "The industry is not going to exist for some period of time," says John Roussel, assistant secretary of the department.

Roughly 33 percent of all wholesale and retail seafood dealers reside in the impacted region, as do 63 percent of the state's charter boats. Rex H. Caffey, director of the Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy at Louisiana State University, considers the preliminary impact released by the state to be "extremely conservative," especially since his office estimated commercial dockside prices to be about $1 billion earlier this year. Louisiana produces more seafood than any other state in the lower 48. "I never conceived losing this much of the market at one time," Caffey says.

David Lavergne, a fisheries economist with the state, says all the natural resources devastated by Hurricane Katrina are renewable, although no one knows when they may return. The preliminary study puts the potential loss at the docks, which is the first point of sale for fishermen, at $12 million for crab, $44 million for oysters, $11 million for saltwater fish and $81 million for shrimp. None of the figures, however, include losses from damaged boats, shut processing plants and damage to other equipment. Consumers may feel a temporary pinch from high prices, officials say, but that is unlikely to last as cheaper imports offer an alternative. ' Jeremy Alford


Murphy Oil Corp. has leased space in Saloom Office Park on Asma Boulevard to put its New Orleans-based employees back to work, says Kevin Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the oil and gas exploration and production company.

Before Hurricane Katrina, Murphy employed about 300 people out of its downtown New Orleans office, including support personnel for E&P, refinery operations and downstream retail. In all, El Dorado, Ark.-based Murphy has about 6,000 employees.

Fitzgerald says the company has not yet decided how many New Orleans employees will work in Lafayette and whether the stay here will be permanent ' a move that would buck a longstanding trend of oil companies moving out of Lafayette. "All of those kinds of decisions haven't been made," he says. "We've got to get a bit of normalcy back to our lives."

The company's refinery in Meraux, where oil spilled into floodwaters after the hurricane, is still down. The hurricane also damaged some of Murphy's offshore facilities and hampered communication. ' Leslie Turk**