Louisiana Oysterman Struggles To Recover From Spill

Nearly one year after the BP oil spill, local business owners on the Gulf Coast are still struggling to recover. Byron Encalade is the president of the Louisiana Oysterman Association. He just returned from London, where he tried to attend the BP stockholders meeting. Host Michel Martin speaks with Encalade about the environmental clean up effort and BP's repeated promises to make the Gulf community "whole" again.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

We're going to spend a good chunk of the program today talking about some sensitive family issues, including a first-of-its-kind study that documents how many women in this country have children by more than one man. It turns out that that phenomenon is more common among people of all backgrounds than many people might think. We'll also talk about the financial challenges of merging families.

But we begin our program by talking about one of the worst environmental disasters in our country's history, the BP oil spill. Tomorrow marks one year since an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast killed 11 people and dumped 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Today we're going to talk about the state of the recovery on the Gulf Coast itself. And we'll speak in a few minutes with Admiral Thad Allen. He is the former commandant of the Coast Guard who led the federal government's response to the Gulf oil spill.

But first we wanted to check in for a few minutes with a small business owner, an oysterman on Louisiana's Gulf Coast with whom we spoke in a couple of times in the past year. Byron Encalade is president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association. He's just returned from an attempt to get into the BP stockholders' meeting in London. And we caught up with him in New Orleans on his way home to Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana.

Mr. Encalade, thanks so much for joining us once again. Welcome back.

BYRON ENCALADE: Well, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Were you able to get into the meeting?

ENCALADE: No, we weren't. We were denied entrance. And they simply asked us where we were from. And of course I'm proud to be from Louisiana. And I told them I was from Louisiana. And they immediately asked us to step aside. They were going to make arrangements for us to go in. And we followed their instructions and then we noticed the doors close.

MARTIN: What were you hoping to tell them?

ENCALADE: We just wanted to let them know the truth, that the claims process has failed. And the thing - the stockholders have the right to know that their stock, and the cost to them, is going up because of BP failing to mitigate the cost and to put the money where the damages occurred.

MARTIN: Where do you think the money is going? You know, there are a lot of ads, a lot of people would've seen them - a lot of ads in the wake of the oil spill with a lot of different people from BP, you know, saying that they were going to - they were going to stay there until it was fixed, that they were going to make people whole. You don't think that's happened.

ENCALADE: No, we haven't. I mean, when you look at what's being told around the globe, we hear Mr. Feinberg talks about three point some billion dollars. We're not getting it. Most of the fishermen have been paid way(ph) compensation below poverty. So - and then now one of the things they told me, that our government have it. Well, we know our government do not have the money.

The CEO of BP stated while we were there that $20 billion have been put into a trust fund to pay for the recovery of the Gulf Coast. We would like to know where this money is going. If you only spent three point some billion, so that means there's 16 some point billion that's still left there. Who's got it?

MARTIN: How much have you gotten so far? I remember last year on this program you told us you thought your - you estimated your losses at about half a million dollars.

ENCALADE: Well, that was for me to keep going. The total losses hadn't even been calculated. When I asked them for half a million dollars, it was to keep my family and the people that relies on my company to support their families, to try and keep us going.

MARTIN: And can I just ask how much you've gotten from the recovery fund or from the fund?

ENCALADE: I've only received $70,000 in interim payments, which was almost a year ago and two $5,000 checks. But I have other members in my company, my family, that have been turned down, have been denied an interim claim.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, and I appreciate your taking the time to talk to us - I know you're on your way home and that you've been - it's been a long trip so you're eager to get there. But how are you making it, by the way? How have you been making it in the year since then? I understand that the oyster beds where you normally fish are dead. So how are you making it?

ENCALADE: Well, I have two companies, different phases of my company. And of course I had also a trucking component that I've been - I had basically to start selling off. I can't maintain the insurance, so I've been using those funds as I receive them from the sale of some of this equipment. And of course, you know, we share. I mean I'm spending money - our families pitch in, you know, and to keep each other going. And that's how we've been doing it.

I don't think BP have any sense of reality of what's actually going on in these small Gulf Coast communities (unintelligible) ground zero. When we look at the people in (unintelligible) or Empire and Grand Bayou, in Waklowski(ph), you know, these are the people that are paying the price for this. They are out of work. Their lives have been completely turned around. And to say, you know, that you're paying people all over the place, I mean, we just can't understand this.

MARTIN: Forgive me for being blunt about it, but if we were to talk again next year, do you think you'll still be in business?

ENCALADE: I have no other choice. This is our community - solely relies on our fishing grounds. This is just not only something that we use to make money with, this is what we eat. The seafood in our communities provides most of our diet. Our senior citizens are having a very tough time right now because they can't get the seafood that they're used to having to sustain themselves, from their nephews, their sons, that they go come down to the canal bank every evening and they get a few pounds of shrimp or a few pounds of fish, a few pounds of oysters. And that makes up the majority of their diet.

MARTIN: Byron Encalade is an oysterman from Pointe a la Hache, Louisiana. We caught up with him on his way back from London, where he attempted to enter the BP shareholders meeting there. He was not able to do that. We caught up with him in New Orleans. Mr. Encalade, thanks so much for joining us once again. Our very best to you.

ENCALADE: Thank you for having us.

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