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Gasoline, diesel prices put squeeze on Hampton Roads commercial fishing

Businesses that make a living off the water are forced to adapt, as gas prices soar to near-record numbers.

POQUOSON, Va. — It’s often said that you get what you pay for. But the bill for a fresh catch at your neighborhood seafood market, might run you a little higher nowadays.

“It's going to get to a point where the customers won’t want to buy because it’s so outrageously expensive," said Kyle Robbins, a commercial fisherman with Capt. Harrell's Seafood and Retail Market.

Soaring gas prices have been squeezing the wallets of drivers and motorists for months. AAA Tidewater reports as of the week beginning June 6, the national average for a gallon of gasoline hit $4.86, and the Hampton Roads average hit $4.66.

The problem for commercial fishermen like Robbins, though, is that changing driving or gas buying habits can be a more difficult decision for them than it is for motorists.

“Everyday it costs me about $150 to $200 just in fuel to leave the dock," Robbins said. 

Six days a week, Robbins ventures out on a crabbing boat to haul in hundreds of pounds of crabs from the Chesapeake Bay. But the rising cost of fuel for those boats has caused his crabbing habits to change.  

"In certain times, maybe we can travel another 10 to 15 miles to catch more crabs, but we’re not wanting to spend the fuel, so we’re traveling only two to three miles," he said. "It's a lose-lose situation."

"There is fishing I won't do or explore. A lot of this is exploration, you might have two bad trips before you find them: flounder, bass and things I sell that are on restaurant tables. But for those fish, there is not a magic roadmap and I think I'll drop my lines and catch them. I can't do that on gas that's costing me more than $6," Chris Ludford said, a commercial fisherman out of Virginia Beach. 

For Robbins, those rising costs have been passed on to customers at checkout, and restaurants that have longstanding relationships with them have had to rethink whether that extra expense is worth it.

"It costs so much per pound, restaurants can’t pay it," he said. 

"I don't know how I can put into words the amount of devastation it [gas prices] is having on the commercial fishing world," Ludford said.

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