On Sunday, June 21, the U.S. shrimp industry suffered a deep loss at the passing of Wilma Anderson, 77. Anyone who had the privilege of working with Wilma knows that she was a pint-sized powerhouse. With a raspy voice and a slow Texas draw, she would tell you how it is.

Wilma was an outspoken and strong advocate for the shrimp industry. On paper, her service to the industry is long list of executive positions on numerous organizations, such as executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association for more than 25 years, trustee of the Gulf & South Atlantic Fisheries Foundation, member of the Southern Shrimp Alliance Executive Committee for more than a decade, industry representative on numerous Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council panels, and co-owner of Anderson Electric and Air Conditioning; Trawler Refrigeration; and Candy, Inc.. In practice, Wilma’s contributions to the industry touched thousands of lives and will continue to influence how the shrimp industry is managed for years to come.

“She was a true pioneer of this industry,” says Andrea Hance, current executive director of the Texas Shrimp Association.

Science-Based Advocacy

Wilma was instrumental in persuading fishermen to use science to address bycatch issues.

Concerned about red snapper bycatch issues and the effectiveness of turtle excluder devices, Wilma was the first in the shrimp industry to encourage the Texas Shrimp Association to fund scientific research. She argued that the bycatch estimates based on effort used by regulators were not correct and sought to find out whether her theory was correct.

“Wilma was insistent on getting the truth,” explains Benny Galloway, President of LGLEcological Research Associates, Inc.. “She asked science to determine the magnitude of the problem and how to solve it, if necessary. She was not wanting science to support a certain side. Her philosophy was, ‘You do the science and I will live with the results.'”

Her instinct was correct. The research found red snapper bycatch had been over-estimated and the efforts led to Congressional funding of electronic logbook technology that is vital to the shrimp industry’s bycatch management today.

Throughout her career, Wilma used data to convince shrimpers to make needed changes and to persuade regulators to forego closures and other detrimental policies that would unnecessarily harm hundreds of shrimpers and coastal economies.

Doin’ What Needs to Be Done

Wilma was skeptical about the need for and effectiveness of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) when they were first introduced. Her efforts assured that the industry had a voice in the creation and implementation TEDs.

When she saw a promising plan to address a major problem facing the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, she did not hesitate to participate. At one time, tens of thousands of Kemp’s ridley turtles nested on the coastline of Tamaulipas, Mexico until poaching by locals dwindled the nests to double digits. Members of the U.S. shrimp industry, believing they were being wrongly accused for the demise of the turtle, started a program to protect the hatchlings and find other revenue sources for locals.

When the turtle restoration project needed motorbikes, Les Hodgson, co-owner of Marco Sales and sea turtle advocate, went to a local Honda dealership to get a preformed invoice that he intended to present to Wilma. “When the Honda guy asked what name to put on the invoice, he laughed. He didn’t think there was a chance the Texas Shrimp Association would give anything,” recalls Hodgson.

Still, Hodgson took the invoice to a convention where Wilma would be present. He found her in the hall smoking two cigarettes during a break and started to explain the need for the bikes. “How much?,” asked Wilma. He replied that is was close to $5,000. Wilma went into the room. She returned with the check. The speed at which she could make things happen impressed Hodgson.

“I brought the check to the guy at Honda, who was surprised that the Texas Shrimp Association was purchasing bikes for [sea] turtle restoration. But Wilma was always a strong supporter.”

The sea turtle restoration program has been credited for bringing the Kemp’s ridley back from the brink of extinction and held up as a model of international, industry-government cooperation. TSA remains a financial supporter of the program.

Talented Defender of the Industry

“Wilma was the shrimp industry,” says Bill Hogarth, former director of the National Marine Fisheries Service and current Interim Dean of Marine Sciences at the University of South Florida.

Equally at home with shrimpers, congressman, and scientists, Wilma was extremely influential. With a straight-forward delivery, she represented the needs of shrimpers in halls of Congress and before management Councils. Then, she would go back to the docks and translate scientific findings and policies into terms that shrimpers could understand and respect.

“Wilma was a force on Capitol Hill. Virtually anything or anyone that messed with her shrimp fishery – we heard about it. I’ll never forget my first meeting with her and my boss, then Fisheries Committee Chairman John Breaux (D-LA), and watching in awe of the respect this tiny lady commanded and the outsized influence she had on U.S. policy for the benefit of not just Texas shrimpers, but the entire industry,” remembers Glenn DeLaney, SSA’s legislative and fishery management consultant. “Twenty years later I felt both blessed and proud to have the opportunity to work with her again at SSA to help the shrimp industry become among the most sustainable fisheries in the nation.”

“A quick study with a healthy dose of common sense, Wilma was the most impressive industry representative I met,” states Galloway.

Measured by Effectiveness

Many who worked with Wilma remember her for emphasis on action over words.

“Ms. Wilma’s measure of folks that worked for the industry was premised on what you got done. Not what you said or how pretty a picture you could paint, but what you achieved,” recalls Nathan Rickard, a partner at Picard Kentz & Rowe LLP. “Because she cared much more about achievement than credit, Ms. Wilma did not occupy the spotlight. But she drove the agenda, set out marching orders, and showed everyone around her that they could succeed going after even the biggest of adversaries.”

One of the issues many thought untouchable was the flood of cheap shrimp imports. But Wilma was part of a small group of shrimpers that thought it was important to unite and research whether the importers were abiding by U.S. trade laws.

“One of her legacies is the Southern Shrimp Alliance,” explains John Williams, director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance (SSA). “As a founding member, Wilma helped organize SSA, which filed successful antidumping petitions, secured trade adjustment assistance and other funds for struggling fishermen, and created a national advertising and certification program under her guidance.”

So today, in remembrance of her service to the families of this industry, we rededicate ourselves to the mission of SSA to represent the industry on issues of trade, fisheries management, food safety, and other issues facing the U.S. shrimp industry.

Our thoughts are with Wilma’s surviving family, including her son, Pheby Anderson; daughter, Candy Anderson Kelly; four grandchildren; and, two great-grandchildren.

Expressions of sympathy may be made by donations in her honor to Rockport Coastal Care Center, 1004 S. Young Street, Rockport, Texas 78382.

Visitation will be held Wednesday, June 24, 2015 from 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm with the family being present from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm at Charlie Marshall Funeral Home in Aransas Pass, Texas. Funeral service will be held Thursday, June 25, 2015 at 11:00 am also at Charlie Marshall Funeral Home in Aransas Pass, Texas. Burial will be private.