Jim Fruge

Seafood Processing Plant Manager


Alison M. Jones

NWNL Director and Photographer

Henderson LA - October 28, 2011

All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.

Introductory Note

Jim Fruge runs Fisherman’s Cove, a seafood processing plant we passed in Henderson, Louisiana. They say a photographer’s best piece of equipment is a good set of brakes; and indeed I braked and turned in to chat about his business which surely reflected on issues of water availability and quality, as well as lifestyles and changing times in the Mississippi River Delta. Oh, and maybe some tips on Cajun cooking!

NWNL  Jim, thank you for letting us barge in and take a bit of your time to discuss the local fisheries here. Probably our conversation should start with what local seafood you most commonly process.

JIM FRUGE  In my seafood processing plant here in Henderson, Louisiana, we carry a variety of items: catfish, garfish, the trout, the gaspergou, bullfrogs, crawfish tails, live crawfish and that’s about it really.

Editor’s Note: The gaspegou (Aplodinotus grunnienw) is also called drum fish or sheepshead. Although gaspergou have been introduced across the US from California to Massachusetts, they are plentiful in 27 states, in almost any tributary in the Mississippi, Pearl and Mobile River Basins and in all the Great Lakes except Lake Superior.

Jim Fruge at his seafood processing store, Fisherman's Cove.

NWNL  How do you assess the health of  the Atchafalaya Basin fisheries today? I also wonder what may be influencing any changes you see – such as  less sedimentation from upstream or increasing flooding.

JIM FRUGE  Well the basin’s fisherman get enough freshwater coming down the Mississippi to be able to crawfish. There’s also plenty of fish right now. but basically, they don’t get enough fish anymore in the Atchafalaya Basin because most of the time so much water is diverted to the Mississippi River. That limits their catch basically since fish like lots of water.

NWNL  What about impacts of the oil industry and natural gas in the basin. Does oil waste pollute the water?

JIM FRUGE  The presence of the oil companies in the past hurt the fishing industry because they created areas of dead water that couldn’t flow like it used to. But I think they’ve corrected a lot of these issues now. And while pollution was a factor, now there is not so much.  I think they’re making efforts to control the waste materials in the basin. There’s another thing though. A lot of the main streams have been dyked off so the natural flow no longer goes through. This has happened in the Alabama area and the Glades area which is a big, big area where people used to catch a lot of fish and make a good living. Now those fishermen are limited to what they can catch.

Mural of seafood (crayfish and crab) on outside walls of Fisherman's Cove.

NWNL  Jim, what is your background?  Have you been a fisherman yourself?

JIM FRUGE  Well, for myself, I’ve mostly made my living fishing, although I have other skills. I studied architecture in college; but came back to fishing. I’ve fished for probably around 17 years prior to buying this place and operating the plant. I come from five generations of commercial fishermen, so it’s a natural way of life for us.

NWNL   Do you have children? If so, will they continue that way of life?

JIM FRUGE  I think it’s slowly dying out. I have one son and he doesn’t seem to like it that much. Although he works with me in the business; and he knows how to fish. So maybe eventually he might decide he wants to do it.

NWNL  You describe yourself as Cajun, so can we ask you to describe your definition of what it means to be Cajun?  What is that culture?  What do you feel separates you from Alison Jones who is from New York City – or even somebody from northern Louisiana who’s never been here?

JIM FRUGE   Being a Cajun begins with the people that moved here from Nova Scotia. Many of them made their living either by farming or fishing in the Atchafalaya Basin. My ancestors made their living by trapping and fishing – and things of that nature. Cajun people developed special ways of cooking many of the products in the basin with their own recipes. There are also many different festivals reflecting what goes on in the Cajun region. People here seem to have a good time.  They’re not so wrapped up in material things. They don’t just enjoy life on the weekends.

NWNL  I have heard of your local fais do-do’s….

JIM FRUGE  Yes, our fais do-do is a small festival where people get together with foods, music and dancing. Some people sell artifacts and things that they have created in the basin. And everybody comes – the young and the old together. It’s mostly outside or under a pavilion. They might have barbecue and all kind of different foods.

They also used to have a bon coup, where people would get together to raise money for a family or some situation that needed money. They would have card games, food and raffle tickets. A bon coup was normally in the Lenten season when Cajun people didn’t believe in going out drinking and stuff like that.

Musician playing Cajun guitar in Lousiana.

NWNL  What are some of your favorite Cajun fish recipes that you might share at a fais do do or a bon coup?  

JIM FRUGE  My favorite one would be garfish. I always have some in my freezer.

NWNL  How do you cook crawfish? I hear that’s the “soul of Cajun?”

JIM FRUGE  Okay, we make étouffée – probably one of the most popular seafood dishes of this area. These Louisiana crawfish tails are very unique. They, plus all the fat that comes from the crawfish, add to the quality of the étouffée.  People cook and serve this over rice with salads and vegetables.

Frozen crawfish tails

NWNL  I understand the Chinese are importing crawfish, but theirs don’t have the fat in it.

JIM FRUGE  Yes I think all the fat is washed away from the shellfish that comes from China. Maybe that’s a requirement by the import laws or something new. But I’ve heard from many people that the Louisiana crawfish is a much better product than the Chinese product. Many restaurants that use the Chinese product create something similar to fat that they add. But the Louisiana crawfish is packed with the meat and its fat. It’s a much better product – and I hear that from many different sources.

NWNL  Jim, thank you for making time to educate us non-Cajuns to the special qualities of life and food in this watery basin.

Posted by NWNL on February 17, 2020.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.

All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.