As Mass Spill Looms, Fishermen Fear for Catch

by Rajshri on  May 4, 2010 at 7:13 PM Lifestyle News
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Even as the oil spill threatens to get out of hand, fishermen are fearing for their catch as well as livelihood.
 As Mass Spill Looms, Fishermen Fear for Catch
As Mass Spill Looms, Fishermen Fear for Catch

Gary Mott steers his boat past four oil skimmers forced to anchor in the Mississippi River by rough seas and wonders how many more fish he'll be able to snare before a massive slick reaches shore.

"There's no oil here yet - no oil that we've seen," he said. "But we all feel that if it ever got in this interior marsh it would be very, very difficult to clean up."

Like many residents of this coastal town, Mott takes his motor boat into the marshes which fan out from the mouth of the Mississippi to catch a few fish for dinner.

He often forgets just how beautiful the bird-filled marshes are. But today, he realized he could lose it all to a sea of crude gushing up from an offshore well at a rate of 200,000 gallons a day.

"It's going to be bad," he says as he steers the boat across the shallow marsh towards his fishing line where five fat redfish were waiting for him.

"This is one big huge maze," he explains. "They would be literally like rats in a maze running around trying to get it cleaned up if the oil got into this interior marsh."

Nobody knows when the oil will stop gushing from a deep-water well cracked open after an offshore oil platform run by British energy giant BP sank on April 22, two days after a massive explosion that killed 11 workers.

Rough seas and high winds have hampered efforts to contain the spill - which has spread across a huge swath of the Gulf of Mexico - and skim it off the surface before it reaches the fragile coast.

Mott is hoping that the strong currents from the Mississippi will keep the oil from leeching up river until it is either collected from the sea or gets carried to less sensitive coastal areas.

"If we could get some help from Mother Nature - if we could get this weather to lay down - it would be much easier," he told AFP.

Environmentalists say it could take decades for the fragile marshes -- more than 40 percent of America's wetlands -- to recover if waves simply wash the oil over miles of boom set up to protect the coast.

Louisiana's 2.4-billion-dollar a year commercial and recreational fishing industry was dealt its first major blow Sunday when the US government banned activities in some areas for at least 10 days due to health concerns.

Dozens of anxious fishermen lined up outside a high school in the coastal town of Venice waiting for a chance to get trained to work on the cleanup.

"We're trying to get some work, but too many people are looking for work," said John Chiem, 51, as he sat on a bench in the shade with two other Vietnamese shrimpers.

"I might be homeless. There are too many bills and the bank could take my house."

Hundreds have already attended the briefing sessions in hopes of netting work laying out protective booms or mopping up oil-soaked wetlands.

The oil spill couldn't have come at a worse time for Louisiana, which is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and decades of coastal erosion.

Chiem's boat was badly damaged in the storm and it was six months before he could get it back in the water.

Shrimping is not an easy life, he said. Most shrimpers head out in crews of three or four people and spend a week to ten days at sea.

The waters can be rough, and so is the work, as they drag their nets through the rich waters fed by the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Chiem tried going out last week when officials opened shrimping season early to give the fishermen a chance to catch what they could.

But the seas were rough. The weather was bad. And Chiem came back with empty nets.

Source: AFP

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