updated 9/15/2004 10:50:29 AM ET 2004-09-15T14:50:29

The losses mounted for Randy Raffield as Hurricane Ivan lumbered through the Gulf of Mexico.

With the storm churning up the ocean and making the waters dangerous, he can't send his fishing boats out. Raffield figures Hurricanes Ivan and Frances have cost him about $500,000.

"Every fish we can't catch, we can't sell," said Raffield, owner of Raffield Fisheries. "It's affecting us in a big way right now."

The busy hurricane season is proving to be a disaster for people who make a living from the ocean. Fishermen have been port-bound in the past month by Tropical Storm Bonnie, Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances _ and now Ivan.

The state agriculture department estimates the storms, excluding Ivan, will cost the commercial fishing industry $4 million to $5 million, said spokesman Terence McElroy. Industry officials expect total losses of more than $10 million. The commercial fishing industry is a $171 million a year businesses.

The losses couldn't come at a worse time for shrimpers. They already are having a tough year as cheaper, pond-raised shrimp from Asia depress prices and threaten their livelihoods. And shrimpers and fishermen are also dealing with the high cost of fuel.

"Storms have cost us three weeks out of the last month," said Joseph Parrish, plant manager at Buddy Ward and Sons Seafood in Apalachicola, a Florida Panhandle town with a waterfront full of idle fishing boats. "You can't work for at least a week before the storm because it stirs up the Gulf so bad. It's a big loss."

Shrimpers sat around the docks in Apalachicola this week, dressed for work, but idled by the threat of Ivan. Even if storms don't hit Apalachicola, they still hurt shrimpers and fisherman who would go several miles out to get their catch.

Earlier this week Buddy Ward and Sons tried to get in a catch between Frances and Ivan. The shrimping boat went about 50 miles out but had to return to port because of stormy seas. That meant wasted fuel at a time of costly prices.

"It really puts us behind the eight-ball," Parrish said.

The Southeastern Fisheries Association, an industry group, estimates Charley and Frances have cost the grouper fishery alone about 800,000 pounds of fish. At $3 per pound, grouper losses could reach $2.4 million, said Bob Jones, the group's executive director.

McElroy, of the state agriculture department, said the loss to the clamming and oystering industries, which are counted separately from commercial fishing totals, also will be high. So far, their losses are nearly $9 million, not counting Ivan, he said.

Another problem has to do with the other side of the food chain: When restaurants board up because of hurricanes and tourists flee, the market is slow.

"If you don't have the people at the plate eating the shrimp it doesn't matter if they catch it, that restaurant's not going to buy," Jones said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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