Guest posts by LABB Volunteers Jamie Hansen and Rene Merino
The shrimpers and oystermen docked in Venice’s harbor were on stand-by Tuesday. Canary and robin-colored booms hung around their boats like tinsel, and engines idled as they waited for British Petroleum’s OK– not to fish, but to tote the booms into the gulf and wrangle oil.
“If that oil didn’t spill, everyone would be shrimping,” said one young fisherman who’s name we won’t mention in case BP’s pr men are skimming the media for contract breakers. His parents had sunk themselves into debt buying a shrimping vessel last year. Their hopes of retiring to Vietnam seemed distant as they awaited work from BP.
According to the old contract, BP is paying vessels $2,000 a day — plus some money for each crew member — to help move booms around the oil slick. The fishermen we spoke with estimate this is a little less then they’d make shrimping. But nobody knows how good the shrimping will be this season. So many took a $5,000 buyout from BP, where they promised not to shrimp for the rest of the season. There have been some reports that BP is taking their pay for helping with booms out of that $5,000. The people we spoke with didn’t report that being the case — yet. Our interviewee said he was ready to raise a fuss if that did happen, on behalf of his parents and the other Vietnamese who speak little English.
For most of the fishermen in the harbor, this was their first day working with booms. With little training, they waited — hoping to be called to sea.
“When something like this happens, most of us don’t know what to do,” said the young man we talked with. “My parents owe a lot of money, and they can’t just go get an office job.”
Further north on the eerily quiet road to Venice, shrimpers talked about stinky water — a different, more chemicly kind of stink than that of the oil, boat parts and marshy detritus they’re used to.
So far the shrimping season hasn’t been affected this far north — but shrimper Roland Phillips worried about the future.
“This is something that’s going to come back for years to come,” he said. “Those chemicals could affect the fish years from now.” He was standing under green nets on his small vessel, waiting for a friend to fix his engine problems. A fisherman all his life, he planned to get as much shrimping in this season — as the future seemed very uncertain.
Today felt very much like we were chasing a ghost. Without a boat to get us on the water, we did not see any oil apart from the typical amount floating at marinas. Most people I encountered on the Gulf coast did not share much information about what they have seen, smelled, experienced.
When I asked a fisherman if he was going to deploy the boom on his boat, he replied with a “how you doin’?” that suggested he was not going to say anything further. He walked by me swiftly.
SUVs on the way to Venice, La., suggested that the federal government was responding to the pending disaster, but everything in Venice was calm — almost eerily so. A few fishing boats had booms on board, but only one boat left the port in the hour or so that we were at the marina.
On our way back to New Orleans, WWL radio reported that petroleum was discovered inside the marshes of Plaquemines Parish, between Venice and New Orleans.