Guest post by Callie Casstevens, LABB intern
Yesterday, sitting outside after work enjoying the breeze and the setting sun, my phone rang. On the other end was one of the many fishermen who have been impacted by the recent BP oil spill. In a soft voice he asked if he may ask a favor of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the fishermen are scared. They are scared because Port Sulphur is surrounded on both sides by the Gulf, and now, they are surrounded on both sides by oil and dispersement. The federal agencies such as the EPA, DEQ, nor OSHA have informed the community about any of the health risks involved with living so close to such a mixture of chemicals. Instead, BP has paid the fishermen $5,000, and as the fishermen told me, “I don’t know really what it’s for, they won’t hire a lot of us to help clean up…many of us think it’s just hush money. They don’t want us to talk, the ones who have been hired by BP are so scared to talk because they don’t wanna be fired…they need the money.”
Pacing my shotgun apartment I listened to him, I think that is what many need, is just an ear, someone to talk to and hopefully get some answers. I asked him how he’s been doing since the spill, emotionally, and if there was anything we could do. He made a suggestion, many of the fisherman he explained, are not computer savvy, or do not own a computer, and he declared he was not comfortable with texting in any reports. Thus, many are not being heard, they do not know how to reach out for help, and when they call the help lines given, either no one answers or no answers are provided. Sighing deeply he stated, “I’ve been a fishermen all of my life…I started out when I was a kid and I’ve never stopped, now I have to. I think it’s too late to help anything…it’s just too late.”
Many fishermen are prevented from getting into the water, either because the area is closed due to oil contamination, or because certain agencies are as he described, “harassing us to leave.” In fact, he recently received two tickets by the Louisiana wildlife and fisheries department, one for not wearing a lifejacket, and the other ticket for being in a restricted area. However, as he explained, “We never had to wear life jackets before, we’ve been in the water all of our lives and they ticket us for that? Plus, we didn’t know it was a law, they never told us. The place where we were at we thought was still open but they said it had been closed a couple hours before he stopped us, how were we to know? They don’t tell us these things.” It is actions like this that have intimidated the fishing community from talking, asking for help, or believing that any solutions will be created that will actually help them. They feel invaded, their way of life is now suddenly stopped, they have no way to make money, and they wait by the phone for BP to call and hire them, so far, many have not received that call.
The fishermen have the areas they used to primarily fish, and ill will or negative feelings towards one another was not a part of their community before the oil spill. Yet, he declared that BP recently hired only the Vietnamese portion of the community, this has created a divide in the community where one did not exist before. Now, the other half of the community feels angry and frustrated with the Vietnamese residents. What is more, the Vietnamese signed English language contracts given to them by BP, no translators were provided. I wanted so badly to have a solution, to solve all of his problems, but I had none. But what I could offer was the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s help, we have decided to go back into the community and set up a simple box, where the men and women can hand write their accounts and drop them in the box, this is a more personal way to receive information about the realistic concerns the community faces, versus typing it on a computer. He said one thing at the end of our conversation that has stayed in my head, like an echo I can hear his voice over and over again as I research more on the situation. He said, “Oil is a powerful thing I guess, it makes these companies lots of money…so what’s a bunch of fishermen like us compared to oil?” So BP, what are these men and women’s lives worth compared to oil?