Fishermen Flout Ban In Gulf, Despite Oil Spill The state declared areas of the Gulf of Mexico off-limits to fishing and shrimping because of fears of contamination from the BP spill. But that hasn't stopped some commercial and recreational fishers. Some set out at night, hoping to elude game officials.
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Fishermen Flout Ban In Gulf, Despite Oil Spill

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Fishermen Flout Ban In Gulf, Despite Oil Spill


The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has closed much of the Louisiana coast to fishing, which does not mean that people there don't fish. When the sun goes down, rods and nets come out - so do the law enforcement officials who try to stop them, and so does NPR's Robert Smith.

ROBERT SMITH: Bryan Casey and his friends are all at the water's edge with their fishing rods.

(Soundbite of splashing)

SMITH: And even though it's dark on the dock, I can see a suspicious pile of flopping fish.

(Soundbite of splashing)

SMITH: But these guys deny everything.

Mr. BRETT FONTENOT: We're not fishing.

Mr. BRYAN CASEY: We're collecting.

Mr. FONTENOT: Biological research.

Ms. TIFFANY BROUSARD(ph): That's right.

SMITH: You know, the kind of research you fry up in butter.

Mr. CASEY: Look at this one.

Mr. FONTENOT: You see that? Whoo-whoo!

Mr. CASEY: Colossal.

SMITH: On the map of Louisiana, the no-fishing zone looks like someone spilled a giant glass of red wine all over the coast. And smack dab in the middle of that stain is Grand Isle.

Mr. FONTENOT: This is what we use to catch bait. Stand back.

SMITH: Brett Fontenot stands on a dock and hurls a net into the canal that connects the bay to the ocean.

(Soundbite of splashing)

SMITH: These friends are just out here for fun - there's not much to do in Grand Isle at night besides fish. They've been doing this all their lives and they aren't going to stop just because crude oil washed up on the beach just a couple hundred yards away.

Mr. FONTENOT: See the sheen of the oil on the water? I done snagged a fish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Fontenot says he knows the water here so well he can outsmart the oil.

Mr. FONTENOT: And if you think I'm lying, I'm going to eat that shrimp raw just to show you that there's nothing wrong with it. Shine your light. This shrimp has no oil on it whatsoever. It's popping like crazy.

SMITH: Oh no. You're eating it.

Mr. FONTENOT: Yeah, and it's not bad.

SMITH: There was sticky gooey oil right over there.

Mr. FONTENOT: That's right. So if I start growing a third arm out of my chest tomorrow morning, you will know why. Blame BP.

SMITH: And that was just the appetizer. Tiffany Brousard comes over with the main course - not that she'll admit what she's holding.

Ms. BROUSARD: If I was out here fishing, it would probably be trout.

SMITH: Here, let me smell that theoretical trout.

Ms. BROUSARD: Smells like...

SMITH: Smells fine.

Ms. BROUSARD: Uh-huh. I mean, if that were trout.

SMITH: Which we're not saying it is.

Brousard is just being overly cautious. It's dark out here. It's late. Who could possibly catch us?

Captain CHUCK COMEAUX (Department of Fish and Wildlife): This is Wildlife and Fishing Enforcement and I'm Captain Chuck Comeaux. I've been in enforcement for over 23 years.

SMITH: So this is CSI Grand Isle, right?

Capt. COMEAUX: Wildlife style.

SMITH: Comeaux was standing in an empty marina. All of his enforcement boats are out on the water. They've been busy since the no-fishing rules went into effect. Hundreds of citations, 19,000 pounds of shrimp confiscated.

How do you spot them at night?

Capt. COMEAUX: Well, we have all kind of, you know, night-visions and stuff...

SMITH: You're wearing night-vision goggles looking for people?

Capt. COMEAUX: Oh yeah. We sneak up on them. We're good at that.

SMITH: And there are no loopholes in this fishing ban. You cannot fish on a boat, you cannot fish in a moat, not on the dock, not for a snack.

Capt. COMEAUX: Even if you throw them back.

SMITH: It's still a misdemeanor with a state fine of up to $500. And Captain Comeaux says there's a real chance that someone somewhere could get sick.

Capt. COMEAUX: We can't take that chance. We want to make sure that the seafood is safe. That's been, you know, our reputation in Louisiana, to have good, fresh seafood and we don't want to ruin that.

SMITH: But out here in the darkness, it's easy to pretend that everything is still all right on the Louisiana coast. Bryan Casey says maybe that's why he holds onto the fishing.

Mr. CASEY: You know, we've been doing it for so long, it's hard to tell us to stop. And now it's all been taken away.

SMITH: Well, not everything. It's a beautiful night, the fridge is filled with beer and there's still that thrill when you feel the tug of the forbidden fish.

Mr. FONTENOT: There he is.

Mr. CASEY: Oh. What do I do?

Mr. FONTENOT: Reel it in.

SMITH: Okay.

SMITH: Well, listen, for legal and maybe for taste reasons, I'm going to throw this thing back in the water. Here we go.

Mr. BROUSARD: He would appreciate it.

(Soundbite of splashing)

Mr. BROUSARD: There he goes.

SMITH: Well, just another successful night of...

Mr. BROUSARD: We like to call it stealth fishing by any other means.

SMITH: All right. Stealth fishing here on the water in Chenier, Louisiana, Robert Smith, NPR News.

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