Raw Deal Offered to Louisiana Fishermen in Aftermath of BP Oil Spill

Dean Blanchard breaks open a tar ball on Grand Isle

GO FISH, Gulf Organized Fisheries in Solidarity and Hope, held a conference on August 4 at the Alario Center in New Orleans, bringing together over 700 people including lawyers, scientists and fishermen to discuss the settlement of a class action suit against BP. Earlier this year, BP agreed to pay out $7.8 billion, to be divided among those affected by the oil spill. Each party that signs on to the class action suit will receive an equal share. The settlement covers economic loss and health problems.Lawyers warned that signing on now would make it impossible to collect additional benefits if business does not pick up or a spill-related illness later emerges. Some of those in dire need have accepted the settlement. Boat captains and business owners can get a one time payment of $25,000 and deck hands, $5,000 — payments that hardly compensate them for losses they’ve already incurred, and won’t help them in the future if the seafood industry collapses of if they get sick. Dean Blanchard, the largest shrimp wholesaler in Louisiana, described the settlement as a joke. He asked the audience “Why should a Florida fisherman get the same amount of money that I would get?” His business is still losing money every day. He wonders if the lawyers who represented Louisiana’s interests in the case had been bought off by BP. Blanchard points out that Louisiana is getting more BP money set aside for coastal restoration than other states, but the people are getting the same amounts as those in states less affected. “Why are the politicians not fighting for the people?” he asks. Settlement payments will be subjected to tax, while settlement monies from 9/11 and Agent Orange claims were tax free, another point of contention. People should hang tight, he warned, until they can get a settlement that will feed their families for the rest of their lives since Barataria Bay,and other fishing grounds may never come back to what they were. “Look at Alaska and Mexico” he warns.

The scientist, Dr Richard Condrey, retired LSU coastal ecologist, explained how things could go from bad to worse. Some species of fish may never recover. Some crabs have shown changes in their reproductive organs which could lead to the eradication of species in the area. Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, was in attendance. He worries about the after effects of dispersants on people, plants and animals, and he’s concerned that the coastal restoration plan overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers is problematic. The planners aren’t talking to the local population, the people who know the area best. No-one is officially checking for oil anymore, although fishermen spot oil almost daily, Nungesser says. Rithy Om, a Cambodian shrimper from Buras part of Plaquemines Parish, says he often loses money when he goes out shrimping. With his overhead more then wiping out his profit since his catch is off. The Buras Cambodian community of about 50 families is helping each other through hard times, Om’s daughter Lynda tells me. She doesn’t know how long they can last but she can’t imagine them moving. That area is all those families know and shrimping is what they do.
Signs on Seafood Inc. on Grand Isle

 The day after the conference I took a trip to Grand Isle to meet with Dean Blanchard to see first hand the tar balls he said are still washing up on the beach. It didn’t take long to spot them.  Blanchard’s business is way off. He loses money daily by staying open, but he can’t see himself staying home. If he were to close his shrimp processing center, local fishermen would suffer even more, forced to take their catch miles away. Tuna Phan’s boat came in to process his shrimp. After paying all his expenses for the trip and paying his deck hands, he will make $400 for nine days work. At least he’ll be able to feed his family he tells me. His catch of the day included tiger shrimp, an invasive species threatening Gulf shrimp along with the chemicals in the water. Blanchard can’t stay on the beach very long. He has to head to Biloxi where he will meet with the team of lawyers working on his case. He will not stay quiet about what is happening nor will he settle for less than what he believes BP owes him. No one will buy him off. If anything, he would like to buy off the state officials to fight BP, but Governor Jindal, who denied taking BP money, shrugged him off when he inquired, “What would it cost to bring you over to the people’s side?”
 BP commercials rub salt in the wounds of Louisiana fishermen. “Making Us Whole,” the BP slogan, is a running joke. No wonder BP declined an invitation to send representatives to the GO FISH conference. 
Billy Nungesser with Dean Blanchard at the GO FISH conference
GO FISH conference in the Alario Center in Westwego
Diagram of health isues found in female crabs
Rithy Om, Cambodian shrimper from Buras
Dead dolphin on Elmer’s Island
Tourism Down on Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle
Open Tar ball
Tiger Shrimp- Invasive speices

Crabber on Grand Isle with small catch

My coverage of  the BP oil spill is  on my website- www.juliedermansky.com and my books ( 2 on the oil spill) can be previewed and/or purchased on Blurb’s site. 

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