ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
With the Gulf oil spill past the three month mark, idle fishermen and oil rig workers say they're more than ready to get back to work. In Lafayette, Louisiana today, about 10,000 people protested the moratorium on offshore drilling. We're going to look now at another federal moratorium, this one on commercial fishing in the Gulf.
NPR's Larry Abramson spent some time with fishermen and he has this report.
LARRY ABRAMSON: All Louisiana's a stage right now, a backdrop for news coverage. This week, Governor Bobby Jindal used Harlon's LA Fish as his proscenium. Jindal surrounded himself with representatives of the state fishing industry in front of the seafood distributor outside New Orleans. He said the state's 12,260 licensed fishermen are lynchpins for the regional economy.
Governor BOBBY JINDAL (Republican, Louisiana): And the reality is that we know these thousands of licenses support other industries like our grocery businesses, our restaurants, our ice houses, our trucking industries, our marinas, our ports and many other related industries as well.
ABRAMSON: Jindal depicted Louisiana as the victim of a ham-handed federal response to the emergency. He said that despite months of testing, inspectors have not found any tainted fish. That's why the governor decided to open recreational fishing last week. But he can't do the same for the state's commercial fishermen without approval from the Federal Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA, Jindal complained, is moving much too slowly, amid a backlog of fish awaiting testing.
Gov. JINDAL: What we're saying is these backlogs shouldn't - you know, they should cut through these backlogs as quickly as possible.
ABRAMSON: Alabama and Mississippi are making the same argument, asking what is taking so long. Livelihoods are at stake. Sure they say some water should remain closed, but most are clear of oil and full of clean Gulf seafood.
The Food and Drug Administration was quietly irked that Louisiana lifted the recreational ban. The FDA's Meghan Scott says all the Gulf states had agreed to a series of steps before reopening.
Ms. MEGHAN SCOTT (FDA): The critical first step in that is ensuring that the water is clear enough for the fish to be taken from before it's tested.
ABRAMSON: And with millions of gallons of oil still drifting around the Gulf, the FDA says it's not ready to give the okay for more areas to be opened. That leaves thousands of fishermen on hold.
Peter Gerica lives on the water's edge in New Orleans East, close to Lake Ponchartrain. He recently rebuilt the house that Hurricane Katrina destroyed. He says he and his family watched the house collapse around them.
Mr. PETER GERICA: We joined hands, said a prayer and the whole house went. I mean, it was just like one minute you're in the house, next minute you're looking at skies (unintelligible).
ABRAMSON: Gerica stands sweating in the July heat, looking at the 29-foot shrimp boat he usually uses to support himself. He lost a bigger boat in the storm. Now, he can't crab, he can't fish, he can't catch shrimp. So he sends his wife to sell frozen seafood he still has on hand.
Gerica is stubbornly hanging on to fishing the way he says he held onto the trees that sheltered his family through Katrina, as the waters rose. He has received $10,000 in compensation from BP. But he says that won't make him whole.
Mr. GERICA: But you got to remember, I lost a season - that was $30,000 in my occupation. When we lose a shrimp season, the shrimp season never comes back. Our brown season starts second week of May and it goes for about 50 days following. We lost that brown season because of closures.
ABRAMSON: Brown is?
Mr. GERICA: The Brazilian shrimp.
ABRAMSON: Pete Gerica concedes it would be a disaster if fishing was reopened too early and someone ended up with oily seafood. So, he will wait as long as he has to. It almost seems that his ability to hang on through the storm has convinced him he can stick it out through anything.
Larry Abramson, NPR News, New Orleans.
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