National Fisherman

The fight of their lives

Nothing — not even hurricanes — could have prepared Louisiana's fishing communities for a disaster of these proportions

By John DeSantis

On a bright Sunday in June, 59-year-old Linwood Dupre of Terrebonne, Parish, La., spent $500 for fuel and ice when he learned of a new opening of some inshore waters nearby.

"All they've got is a few little browns, some bigger shrimp," said Dupre, who was ready to pack it in and cut his losses after a day. "There's two or three boats that were out here but they're gone now. Maybe the oil scared them away."

Even in places where the brown, gooey sludge leaking from the sunken Deepwater Horizon well is still miles away, the effects on fishermen and fishing communities, two months after the rig explosion that caused it all, are keenly felt.

Those fishing communities are dealing with a lot: shrimp, crab and oyster operations have halted because of fishery closures both precautionary and urgently required; a claims program in many cases has caused more confusion than comfort; a program promising to hire fishing boats for cleanup work is using only a quarter of those signed on; and crude oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The long-term effects of the oil on ecology and economy can only be guessed at.

The story is the same throughout the parishes of Plaquemines and Jefferson, St. Bernard, Terrebonne and Lafourche, where a program called "Vessels of Opportunity" has become for many a waiting game of despair, and confusion over claim checks and unanswered questions about safety equipment have driven a deep wedge between BP and fishermen, who initially expressed understanding that the biggest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history was an accident.

There is fear as well because the processors and docks to whom fishermen sold their catches are shutting down one by one. It's unknown whether or when they can reopen.

Commercial and recreational fishing, with a few exceptions, are shut down from the Atachafalaya River eastward, nearly half the state's coast. Meanwhile Louisiana's $2 billion seafood industry struggles to assure consumers that what can be caught — primarily in upper inshore waters to the east and coastal waters to the west — is indeed marketable and safe to eat.

Julie Falgout, who once ran a trawler with her husband Dean but now works for Louisiana Sea Grant, said the current disaster is unprecedented in her experience.

"Our people have survived hurricanes and they have survived low prices because of imports, an economic downfall from which they were recovering," Falgout said. "What is different about this is that we just haven't dealt with anything like it.

"We were on a learning curve with dumping petitions, learning how the system works, but there were people to help whether you agreed with that approach or not. With the hurricanes, whether you agreed with how the disaster recovery was going or not, you still had a structure. And then this one, because this is so different, the structure is not there."

National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 3/10/15

In this episode, Online Editor Leslie Taylor talks with Mike McLouglin, vice president of Dunlop Industrial and Protective Footwear.

National Fisherman Live: 2/24/15

In this episode:

March date set for disaster aid dispersal
Oregon LNG project could disrupt fishing
NOAA tweaks gear marking requirement
N.C. launches first commercial/recreational dock
Spiny lobster traps limits not well received

Inside the Industry

NMFS announced two changes in regulations that apply to federal fishing permit holders starting Aug. 26.

First, they have eliminated the requirement for vessel owners to submit “did not fish” reports for the months or weeks when their vessel was not fishing.

Some of the restrictions for upgrading vessels listed on federal fishing permits have also been removed.


Alaskans will meet with British Columbia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, when he visits Juneau next week and will ask him to support an international review of mine developments in northwest British Columbia, upstream from Southeast Alaska along the Taku, Stikine and Unuk transboundary rivers.

Some Alaska fishing and environmental groups believe an international review is the best way to develop specific, binding commitments to ensure clean water, salmon, jobs and traditional and customary practices are not harmed by British Columbia mines and that adequate financial assurances are in place up front to cover long-term monitoring and compensation for damages.

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