BROWNSVILLE — The Texas Shrimp Association may be in line for a $300,000 grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which will distribute a portion of the billions of dollars in RESTORE Act money generated by fines paid out by BP stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
TSA is a nonprofit trade group representing the Texas Gulf shrimp industry since the early 1950s. The organization is comprised of — and solely funded by — 275 shrimp vessel owners and roughly 200 affiliate members from Texas ports and neighboring states.
The proposed grant is included in a draft project list of more than 200 Texas projects totaling $1.1 billion that were submitted for RESTORE Act funds. The list will go into creation of a draft “Multi-Year Implementation Plan,” which eventually will be posted in the Texas Register for a 45-day public comment period before a final MIP is developed. That document then will be submitted to the Treasury Department for final approval.
In other words, the grant isn’t a done deal, though TSA Executive Director Andrea Hance is keeping her fingers crossed. TSA would use part of the money for marketing and promotion, part of it for consumer education and tourism — including shrimp tours for Winter Texans — and some of it for social media campaigns that market wild-caught Gulf shrimp directly to consumers as opposed to restaurants, she said.
“We’ve had good luck with social media,” Hance said. “We get a lot of exposure doing that.”
Hance said she didn’t have high hopes for winning the RESTORE grant, for which TSA applied in April, partnering with the Texas Department of Agriculture on the application, though being passed over wouldn’t be for lack of trying.
“We did a lot of campaigning for this RESTORE Act (funding),” she said. “We went around and talked to politicians and the community basically saying, ‘We deserve some of this money.’”
A Feb. 21 TSA press release quoted state Sen. Eddie Lucio describing shrimping as “the most important commercial fishing industry in Texas” and expressing gratitude to TCEQ for including TSA’s grant submission in the draft project list.
While Texas’ shrimping grounds weren’t impacted directly by oil from the 2010 spill, Texas shrimpers certainly were, Hance said.
“We were still affected to some degree, because when that oil spill took place it was right when our season closed,” she said. “Our fleets were forced to shrimp in Louisiana and Mississippi. We were over there shrimping just as much as the guys in Louisiana and Mississippi. Our catch was affected.”
If TSA ultimately wins the grant, it will be the first time the group has received help from the state, even if the RESTORE Act funds originate with the federal government, she said.
“Hopefully this is the start of bigger things,” Hance said.
It’s difficult on TSA’s limited budget to promote an industry beset by “heavy regulation, pressing economic challenges and the flood of inexpensive imported shrimp,” she said. Hance noted the industry also is bucking a lingering misconception among some members of the public that Gulf shrimp are tainted since the BP disaster.
If TSA wins the grant, it will be required to monitor how the money is spent and measure the effectiveness of those expenditures, she said.
“If we continue to do that there may possibly be other grants we can apply for,” she said. “I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this money so we can take it up to the next level.”