Anxiety Runs High Among Gulf Coast Fishermen As untold barrels of oil continue to spill into the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen along the Gulf Coast express deep-seated fears about what this means for their livelihoods. For many, the spill could mean "the beginning of the end."
NPR logo

Anxiety Runs High Among Gulf Coast Fishermen

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Anxiety Runs High Among Gulf Coast Fishermen

Anxiety Runs High Among Gulf Coast Fishermen

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


All along the Gulf Coast, you hear deep-seated fears from fishermen about how long this will go on. Last week, I was in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, one of the strips of land that feather out into the gulf.

(Soundbite of boat)

BLOCK: Most of the shrimping and fishing zones had been shut down by the spill. But at the Dicero(ph) Seafood Dock, I found a burly shrimper named Dwayne Bayham(ph). He had just come in from one of the last open zones, with 800 pounds of very tiny shrimp.

(Soundbite of boat)

Mr. DWAYNE BAYHAM (Shrimper): Eighty to a hundred, baby, all right!

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Eighty to a hundred shrimp per pound, these were really young shrimp. They decided to open the fishing grounds early because of the spill. The idea was, get what you can while there's still time. And in fact, three days after we talked, that zone was closed, too.

Bayham worries about the oil and the dispersant and the fishery's future.

Mr. BAYHAM: Well, the worry is your baby stuff, all your little eggs and the little, small stuff.

BLOCK: As we're talking, another worker storms by.

Mr. MIKE BERTHLOT (Dock Manager): Well, I got one thing to say. This is the beginning of the end. That's all I can say about it.

BLOCK: I chase after him to talk. It's the dock manager, Mike Berthlot(ph).

Mr. BERTHLOT: I don't see no more future for us to ever catch fresh shrimp ever again - oysters, crabs, I think it's over with.

BLOCK: Why do you say that?

Mr. BERTHLOT: From the way the oil gushing out them pipes, and they says one thing and it's 10 times that much. But I think I would never troll or buy shrimp in my lifetime anymore. I'm 51 years old, and I've been doing this for 34 years, and I think this is the beginning of the end.

BLOCK: What would it mean for this parish if that were to happen?

Mr. BERTHLOT: A disaster. Hey, you had Katrina, Ike and Gustav, but you can add all those together and it ain't going to be nowhere near what this is going to do. Yep.

BLOCK: Nearly five years after Katrina, Plaquemines Parish still feels temporary, like it's just barely holding on - new construction, mostly prefab buildings high on stilts.

Mr. BYRON MARINOVICH (Owner, Black Velvet Oyster Bar and Grill): We still don't have a school yet here. That's our firehouse. We use an empty grocery store right now for the firehouse. We still don't have a library here. We still don't have gas service here. We don't have cable here.

BLOCK: I find Byron Marinovich(ph) at the restaurant he owns in Buras: Black Velvet Oyster Bar and Grill. This time of year, he's used to fishermen coming in with big, fat paychecks.

Mr. MARINOVICH: It was nothing to see these guys come in with 3,000, $5,000, you know, just for a couple days' work. It's the time they make their money; this couldn't have come at a worse time.

BLOCK: Marinovich says his family's been in Plaquemine since the 1860s, fishing oysters. He worked for Chevron for 17 years. The two industries, fishing and oil, have co-existed for generations.

Mr. MARINOVICH: But it's always kind of been a little bit of a love-hate relationship, you know - with the money, with the oil companies.

BLOCK: What do you think about how BP has handled this?

Mr. MARINOVICH: I mean, I don't know. What do you tell people, you know, family members killed in the incident, I mean, that's definitely, you know, upmost importance. I think they were trying to produce the well too fast, is what it looked like to me. It really does. I think they were trying to get this well in too fast and make them some money, and it backfired on them.

(Soundbite of vehicle)

Mr. A.C. COOPER (Vice President, Louisiana Shrimp Association): Hi, my name is A.C. Cooper, and I'm a commercial fisherman. I've been fishing all my life and never worked another job never. I always fished. My father was a fisherman, his father and my sons, my son-in-law. So my whole family has got a lot at stake right here.

BLOCK: A.C. Cooper is vice president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. He drives with us to the marina in Venice, Louisiana. The sun is about to set behind rows of trollers. It's God's country, he says. And then he amends that used to be God's country.

Mr. COOPER: Where's the oil at, Kevin?

BLOCK: Out on the dock, Cooper finds his friend Kevin Jury(ph) on his boat. Kevin's been working for BP as they go out to take water samples, and he's brought a plastic bucket back with him. At the bottom, it's coated with a thin film of black particles.

Mr. KEVIN JURY (Employee, BP): That's just a little sign of it that you see. Once you pour it out, you'll see it running at the bottom a little bit.

Mr. COOPER: How deep was the water where you're testing this?

Mr. JURY: That was 39 feet (unintelligible).

Mr. COOPER: Wow.

Mr. JURY: See it in the bottom.

Mr. COOPER: You see it all on the bottom.

BLOCK: So, tell me what you're seeing there.

Mr. JURY: I see oil skim, oil film all over the bottom of it. And you can see, as I pour it, where it's at - and this is in 30 feet of water. So in 30 feet of water, you shouldn't have nothing. The oil should be on top.

BLOCK: So what does that tell you?

Mr. JURY: That tells me the dispersant's on it and sinking it, is what is happening.

BLOCK: It's making it heavier.

Mr. JURY: Making it heavier. And what it does is, breaks it down. Like you said, a microorganisms going to eat this, but how long does it take to eat it? At this quantity of oil, how long would it take to eat something like this? It may take years. We don't know. They don't know. They can't tell us. I asked many a question, and they still ain't got no good answers. And how do we boom this so - everything we have is to catch it on top of the water. There's nothing to catch it under the water.

At least on top, we can see it, we can attack it, we can jump on top of it with - I dont care how many boats and how many oil pads or booms - and do what it takes. When it comes underneath, you can be right underneath it, right, and you don't even know it's there. We don't know. But everything else under there knows it's there. It takes the oxygen out of the water, and everything dies. So, I'd much rather see something I can fight than something I can't.

BLOCK: And what would the impact be - say, for shrimping and for everything underwater?

Mr. JURY: Oh, it can kill us. It can take everything out of the water. It can kill everything. Where's our eggs going to come from for our future crops? It's very serious. The shrimp is a bottom feeder. He's on the bottom. If the oil is all over the bottom, where is he going to feed at? He's going to he may not eat the oil, but hes going to be eating things around the oil that's contaminated by that.

And I hate that word - contamination - because I don't believe in that and I don't think we're going to contaminate it. But if it's get in there, it may be a problem. But who knows what's going to happen in the future?

BLOCK: You don't want that word - contaminated - associated with Louisiana seafood.

Mr. JURY: No, 'cause our Louisiana shrimp is the best shrimp they have, the best seafood we have. Contaminated is not even an issue. I shouldn't even have brought that up because it's not. That's one thing we don't like to talk about, is contaminated. 'Cause after Katrina, that's all they talked about.

And let me tell you something: If you ever eat our shrimp, you'll never eat nothing else. In Plaquemines Parish, there's 30 million pounds of shrimp coming out of Plaquemines Parish alone. Just a little bit sticks out in the Mississippi River here. If you ever eat our shrimp, you will never eat another one. It's the best and sweetest shrimp you ever ate.

BLOCK: Talk to fishermen in Louisiana, and they inevitably bring up the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. They know that 20 years later, the fishing industry there still hasn't recovered. Commercial herring was pretty much wiped out. And so they look out over the gulf waters that have been their bounty. They lay boom where they can, and watch and wait.

This is NPR.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.