The oil flood (it’s too big to be merely a spill) news is pretty grim. Other than the obvious villain of the piece, BP and big oil’s Senatorial lackey, Mary Landrieu, I’m not sure quite yet what to make of the roles of the various players. Right now, it’s an oily clusterfuck but we need to use a different template than that of Katrina and the subsequent federal flood. It’s a different crisis but one that could, in fact, have worse long range consequences than Katrina. Why? The terrible impact of oil on our fragile wetlands, wildlife sanctuaries and seafood industry.
Having said that, it’s time to do something I rarely do and cut and paste an entire article by Picayune outdoors writer Bob Marshallabout the potential eradication of the livelihood of the people who harvest and catch the Gret Stet’s bounty of fish, oysters and shrimp:
Despite the threat of oil in the marsh from the Gulf of Mexico oil
spill, a few fishers from Dallas and Shreveport braved the 40-knot wind
and returned to Cypress Cove Marina in Venice with a pile of redfish Saturday.
It was the most common expression across the southeast Louisiana
fishing community this week as the river of oil from a blown-out rig on
the Gulf of Mexico began flowing onto the coast in what officials say
could be a two- to three-month flood of toxic chemicals and sticky tars.
Terror was the correct emotion.
The delta of the Mississippi River isn’t a sandy tourist beach. It
isn’t a line of solid sand and rock on the other side of a highway that
can be easily reached, cleaned and repaired with bulldozers and dump
trucks. It is 70 wetland miles from the nearest road, and it isn’t a
coastline. The edge of this coast resembles the bottom of a broken
jigsaw puzzle, hundreds of miles of zigs and zags, of odd-shaped pieces
that don’t fit together, of grass and mud, bayous, passes, bays, ponds
and lagoons sprinkled with grassy islands.
That vast, uneven interface of water, grass and mud is the engine
that drives the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the lower
48 states, one of the greatest coastal estuaries on the planet. The
people who make their living and take their pleasure in that ecosystem
know this; they know how important it is and how difficult it will be
to find and remove millions of barrels of crude oil that might wash
So they were terrified. And that terror was justified late Friday when
the state closed all fishing — recreational and commercial — east of
the Mississippi River, fearing contaminated seafood might be caught and
consumed. The closure does not include lakes Borgne, St. Catherine and
Pontchartrain, but does include the marshes around and south of Lake
The economic impact of the recreational closures alone will be huge.
The state recently put the value of saltwater coastal fishing at $757
million annually — and most of that is centered around the southeastern
end of the state, the most threatened by the spill and the closures.
There are dozens of marinas and lodges and hundreds of guides, but
there also are more than 100,000 sports fishers whose weekly forays
keep marinas, bait dealers, tackle stores and boat dealers in business.
Most of that economy was entering its top money-making months, the
warm-weather fishing season that stretches from April through October. The closure meant legendary launching spots such as Pointe a la Hache,
Delacroix, Hopedale, Shell Beach and Reggio were out of business — just
as the prime, fish-catching and money-making seasons arrived.
“This isn’t going to cripple us, it’s going to totally kill us for
at least this year and — what’s even scarier — maybe for several years
to come, ” said Robert Campo, of Campo’s Shell Beach Marina. “How are
we going to pay our bills? Where do we get the money for the mortgage?
How do we pay the utilities to keep the lights on?
“What the hell do we do to survive now that all of a sudden none of us can fish?”
Help may be on the way. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
Secretary Robert Barham, said the state today will announce a program
that would provide funding to commercial fishers, boat captains, marina
owners and others who have been shut out from their livelihoods by the
closures. He said the payments would be long-term to cover the spill
and its aftermath.
But marina owners and fishermen wondered about the long-term impact. Campo’s has been a New Orleans fishing and cultural landmark for more
than 100 years, a period in which the only closures were for Christmas
Day and hurricanes. The marina and Shell Beach community has been wiped
out by storms three times and moved from its original location on the
Lake Borgne shoreline when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the
Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. Each time the community and marina
Campo said the spill is a more serious hurdle. “Katrina put us out of business for three months, but what do we do if
we’re out of business for a year or more?” he said. “I know how to
rebuild and keep going after hurricanes. I don’t know how to deal with
this. I’d rather face another Katrina.”
The big storm was the most common unit of measure across the marsh
this week, as the fishing community tried to evaluate the spill impact.
It didn’t fare well.
“Katrina only lasted two or three days, this is going to be hitting
us for two or three months, and then maybe years after that, ” said
Louie Viavant of Chef Harbor Marina.
Katrina blew Viavant, his wife Beata and their house into Lake
Borgne, where they had to survive in towering waves with the gators,
nutria and raccoons. He said the spill has produced even more anxiety
than that experience.
“It’s the uncertainty, ” Viavant said. “It’s not knowing how bad this is going to be, how long it’s going to last. It’s awful.”
There was no uncertainty for marina owners and bait dealers. “It’s going to put me out of business, ” said Glenn Sanchez of Breton
Sound Marina in Hopedale. “This is the start of our busiest time of the
year. We just came through the worst winter anyone can remember where
we struggled to get by, planning to make our living in the months
ahead, and now this?
“This changes everything as we know it. I don’t have a clue how I’ll make a living.”
One answer already was en route to those small fishing towns. First
the world’s media descended on Venice and other fishing ports and
rented lodges and camps, hired charter boat skippers and shrimpers to
take them on tours of the coast. By the weekend, companies that
specialize in cleaning oil spills were taking over and planning for a
Charter skipper Frank Moore of Shell Beach spent his weekend driving
the media around, and said his lodge, which sleeps 19, already had been
rented indefinitely by a clean-up crew.
“I just started my busiest season — I’m booked every day almost
through October, ” he said of his trips that cost between $500 and
$1,2000, depending on the number of anglers. “But it looks like I might
be able to make some of this up with the clean-up crews.
“And they say the companies are hiring boats for $575 a day plus $40 an hour. So that could save me.”
That could save the people who make a living on the water. It won’t
do much for the tens of thousands of private anglers who can’t fish, or
the marinas that can’t launch them, the boat dealers and tackle shops
that can’t equip them.
It also won’t make up for the pure joy and relaxation of lost
fishing trips, and it won’t remove that feeling of terror that this
could hurt the nation’s most important coastal habitat for years to
NET SEASON RECONSIDERED: An emergency resolution passed by the
Plaquemines Parish Council to allow a three-month season for
strike-netting on redfish probably will be rescinded at the next
meeting, according to Don Beshel, the council president.
The resolution caught the recreational fishing industry by surprise
because the issue was not on the meeting agenda. Instead, the issue was
brought up using a suspension of rules for emergencies. The reaction
from fishermen was immediate and angry.
Beshel admitted “it was brought up kind of on the sly and caught
people by surprise, so we’ll reconsider it at the next meeting.”
The St. Bernard Parish Council passed a similar ordinance. Fishing regulations are established by the state, so any changes would have to be approved by the Legislature.