Dean Blanchard's workers shovel piles of shrimp aboard the Ace of Trade. (Spike Johnson for Grist)
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GRAND ISLE, La. — The Ace of Trade trawler motored toward Dean Blanchard’s dock early last summer in southern Louisiana, its skipper slowly winching its nets into storage. Blanchard’s workers, strengthened by a lifetime at sea, worked shirtless in the humid summer air. It was the beginning of hurricane season, and 2019 was on track to be one of the wettest years on record in the U.S. With cigarettes in their mouths, they vaulted aboard the ship to shovel knee-high piles of fish off the fiberglass deck and into holding tanks, where they awaited the 12-inch-thick, semi-translucent pipes that would suck them into the warehouse.


This story also appeared in Grist and The World

Dean Blanchard Seafood, headquartered on the barrier island of Grand Isle in the Mississippi River Delta, is one of the largest shrimp suppliers in the United States. Blanchard is a squat man with a boxer’s nose, a soft-talking Cajun with the gravelly voice of a lifetime smoker. He fought hard for his livelihood after starting the business 37 years ago, when tensions ran high between established local shrimpers and newly arrived Vietnamese refugees. In the 1990s, Blanchard said that local shrimpers would sometimes pull alongside his dock opening fire with automatic weapons, angry at the market competition Blanchard encouraged through his dealings with the immigrants. He said he always shot back.