HERNANDO BEACH — Perhaps no one knows more than Alma Tadema the hard life of a shrimper. She has spent much of the past 15 years in the industry, the past five as operator of a pea-green trawler named J.J's Dream that she moors at the marina behind Calienta Street.
But Tadema's trawler hasn't been out in nearly two weeks. It's not for a lack of shrimp; there are plenty out there. Tadema said the market for gulf seafood is almost nonexistent.
"It's the worst I've ever seen it," Tadema, 59, said. "People are scared right now of whatever you pull out of the gulf. And it's hurting people around here bad — people that work hard for a living."
Though the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may not have physically arrived off Hernando County's shores, the psychological effects are being felt by the hundreds of people who make their living from the more than 40 commercial fishing vessels based here.
On Wednesday afternoon, fishermen and their families gathered along the docks for rally organized by Hernando Beach Seafood owner Kathryn Birren to bring attention to what she called "a growing catastrophe."
Many of the commercial captains who gathered have less than two weeks to decide whether to renew their state saltwater licenses and permits for the coming year, which range in price from $50 to $400.
Birren and others want state officials to push back the June 30 deadline at least 90 days in the hope that the future of the fishing industry will be clearer by then.
"You're talking about people who have to come up with hundreds of dollars for commercial boat and fishing licenses," she said. "A license isn't going to do anyone much good if they can't go out and fish."
The rally, which was organized with the help of former Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden, also served as a focal point for a petition drive asking Gov. Charlie Crist for help in extending the permit renewal deadline. Though no one from the governor's office was in attendance, Shahara Anderson, a representative from Sen. Bill Nelson's office, spoke to the crowd briefly.
Fisherman Greg Lasnier, 47, captain of the 43-foot commercial grouper boat Cobia, lamented that representatives from local and state agencies have been scarce in Hernando Beach.
"These aren't people that know that much about filling out forms and paperwork," he said. "It would be nice to get some help from someone."
Contacted Wednesday, Cecilia Patella, Emergency Management director, acknowledged that her department hasn't been directly involved in the Hernando Beach plight mainly because no one had inquired about assistance. She said she plans to meet with residents immediately.
"We're anxious to help and we like to be proactive," she said. "We just need to find out what they need."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.