22 December 2019

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is marking its centenary in 2019 and as part of the commemoration has launched a photography project called “Dignity at Work: The American Experience” to document the working life of people across the United States. UN News joined the ILO on a visit to the southern US state of Louisiana.

Heath Leger works for Chez Francois Seafood, a family business run by his brother in Scott, Louisiana. He harvests freshwater crawfish, small crustaceans which resemble lobsters. The farm is 120 acres in size and was set up by the brothers’ father.  Heath Leger worked in Louisiana’s oil fields for 11 years, but automation led to the loss of some 70-80 jobs. 

Heath Leger has been working on and off for Chez Francois Seafood, a family business in Scott, Louisiana for most of his life. ILO Photo/John Isaac

“When I grew up crawfish was not a delicacy, only people in the swamp ate it. Now it’s a global billion-dollar industry and you can find crawfish in pretty much every country. I think the US eats more crawfish than it produces, so we import from abroad. 

My dad got into the seafood industry when I was 12, so 40 years ago, so I have been in and out of this work for most of my life. I have a passion for it, my heart is in it; to me it’s about providing a service and satisfying the customer, making someone smile.  

There’s nothing easy about this job. It’s a lot of work.  It’s non-stop, sitting in that boat, driving with your feet; you’re doing five things at one time. It’s hot, there’s mosquitoes, it’s sweating, you’re messing with fish…it will chip away at you. But it’s rewarding. At the end of the day you’re dog-dead tired but you have a boat full of crawfish. It takes a special kind of person to do this job, it’s not for everyone. If you don’t like getting dirty this is not for you, I tell you that. I’ve seen myself up to my waist in mud already. 

Today, I’m setting pots to catch the crawfish. Two thousand pots can be set in 120 acres and each pot can hold between three to six pounds, at least in the high season in the spring and early summer. 

This is God’s country; it’s outdoors. I mean where else can you get this. You can’t go to the movies and get this, there’s nothing like it. 

Most people have no idea how the crawfish ends up on their plate. It’s important to know where your food comes from. There are two types of people; those who care about what they eat, that happens to be me, and others who do not care what they eat.  

I’m 52 years old and I’m still in great shape, because I eat right. When it comes to crawfish, I would eat an American-harvested crawfish seven days a week. I don’t have anything against crawfish harvested in foreign countries, but I don’t know what they are raising the crawfish in, what they’re feeding it. I want to know that.

 

Louisiana produces more than 90 per cent of all crawfish in the United States, and the industry makes more than $300 million annually, creating 7,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board.
Crawfish, are small freshwater crustaceans which resemble lobsters. ILO Photo/John Isaac

My dad built a business on quality not quantity, providing the customer with the best quality product. And, so our business has grown through word-of-mouth recommendations. 

His dream before he left and went home [passed away] was to leave a legacy that would carry on for generations. And that’s what we have done, well my brother mostly. My dad said when a man loves what he does, he never works a day in his life.” 

 

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News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

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