Black Oystermen Frustrated By BP Response

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As BP touts its latest efforts to complete the sealing of its well, many residents of the Gulf Coast worry that they will be forgotten. Byron Encalade, President of the Louisiana Oystermen Association, explains how the gulf spill has affected black oystermen and what his community is doing to weather the latest disaster.

MICHELE MARTIN, host:

Next to the Gulf. We'll have the first of two conversations where we're tracking the effect of the oil spill disaster on people in the region. In a minute, we'll talk about a new study that looks at the effect on children.

But first, we speak with a man who heads an association of Louisiana's oystermen. His is a traditionally African-American community. For them, fishing is not just a business, it's the center of culture, cuisine and, for many, the only source of income. Many are out of work right now and they are uncertain about what the future holds.

Joining us from Point a la Hache, Louisiana, is Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association. Welcome, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. BYRON ENCALADE (President, Louisiana Oystermen Association): Well, thank you all for having me. I appreciate that.

MARTIN: How far back does this work go in your family?

Mr. ENCALADE: We go back generations. I mean, my grandfather and great grandparents all the way back to our Native-American heritages is in the African-American heritage.

MARTIN: How were you doing before the oil spill, if you don't mind my getting it all into you business, how are you doing on an average day, for example, or average week?

Mr. ENCALADE: Well, we were at our final stages of getting over that hump from Katrina. You know, we were devastated. Remember, we took the eye of the hurricane for Katrina. So we were the last five years, we've been repairing boats, repairing our oyster beds and things and most of us for the first year most our boats would've been working for the first time.

MARTIN: Now, people - BP has said that it will make whole those who have lost income during the spill. Has that been your experience and the experience of the people in your community?

Mr. ENCALADE: Well, what they started off with a $5,000 check. And of course that's gone now. And we are waiting to see what the Feinberg plan has. And so we are concerned. We are concerned because we still have oil showing up from the dispersant that pushed the oil down. Now it's starting to rise up in different places. And BP seems to be on an exit strategy. So we are very concerned.

MARTIN: You're saying you can see oil in the oyster bedding areas. You can see it.

Mr. ENCALADE: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We have oil with the dispersant caused by letting it sink. Now it's starting to pop up places that, you know, you couldn't see it coming in, but it's coming in under the water. So, you know, the dispersant stagnated the oil down to the bottom, you know. It was all in between the waters. So that's one of our biggest concerns.

And the dispersant itself is our biggest concern because we need to get the facts on it. We need the federal government and BP to disclose the short term and long term effects that this dispersant with the crude oil could have on our communities and our health and our food source.

MARTIN: Now, there are those who some people who have been working on the water fishing and oystering and so on had been getting some income helping with the cleanup. Has that been your experience as well and the people in your area?

Mr. ENCALADE: Yes. We have some people working. I think, you know, the last few weeks has turned out to be successful with the local government, getting involved and getting the rest of these votes on a rotating basis to try and get everybody to work. But we went through two months without basically any work, a lot of us. Some have. You know. I have a boat working. I have one still port and probably will never get to go to work.

MARTIN: Now, school is about to start soon. How are people doing with that? I mean there are things that people need at the beginning of a school year. Kids need supplies and a lot of times kids need new clothes and things like that. How are people coping with all that?

Mr. ENCALADE: That's what we have been trying to support our kids as best as we can. We've had some very talented kids running track, junior Olympics. We managed to scrape funds together to help them. And of course, like you said, school is coming up pretty soon. So, you know, these kids need school clothes. We have Catholic charities on ground doing the best they can. We have Mount Sinai organization, which is a local organization that's doing things and basically people are helping out like that. But of course it takes a lot more, you know.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. What are you most worried about, if you don't mind my asking?

Mr. ENCALADE: Well, I'm worried about the dispersant. I mean, until we get this information out to the public, I don't think, you know, all of promotions and all of this is not going to do any good. People have to know that our waters are safe, not just wanting to accept somebody's word for it. They're not going to do it. You have to give them some the public the information that they need to feel comfortable and confident that that water is safe. We have put a lot of chemicals in that water. So I think the public and the fishermen needs to know the facts about it.

MARTIN: You wouldn't eat the oysters from there right now?

Mr. ENCALADE: No, not in my area because of the fact that, well, most of them are dead anyway with the fresh water that have been put on those grounds to keep the crude oil out. So I mean we have some areas in Louisiana that are good, that are that seems to have always been good because no oil have showed up in the west. So I mean those that are eating Louisiana seafood, they're basically getting it from the west. So, and that area seems to be fine.

MARTIN: Can I ask you a difficult question, Mr. Encalade, before we have left? Can you envision not living there?

Mr. ENCALADE: No, I can't. I mean I've been here all my life. I've been around the world in the military and I've been in places like Hawaii. Beautiful place. But there's no place like south Louisiana. And I think anybody have lived on the bayous all their life and been part of that, have came and visit with us, and they'll tell you the same thing. There is no place like the bayous in Louisiana.

MARTIN: Well, will you keep us posted, Mr. Encalade? We sure would love to keep in touch with you.

Mr. ENCALADE: I sure do. And I appreciate you all calling us and sharing our thoughts and what's going on and getting to the facts of (unintelligible) down here. So, okay, well, I appreciate you (unintelligible).

MARTIN: All right. Byron Encalade is a long-time oysterman. He's the president of the Louisiana Oysterman Association. He joined us from Point a la Hache, Louisiana.

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