The fishing and oil industries off the coast of Southern Louisiana have operated in the same waters for decades without incident. Now, as the crude oil from last month's BP oil spill hits the coast, the balance is being threatened and industries are in danger. This E&ETV Special Report explores the impact of the oil spill on coastline communities and industries.
Monica Trauzzi: The fishing and oil industries off the coast of southern Louisiana have operated in the same waters for years without incident. Last month an explosion on the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon oil rig threatened that balance. Now, with thousands of gallons of crude oil spilling from the rig, the coastline and its industries are in danger.
Jay Holcomb: Well, you know, there's a term we use in the oil spill world. It's called the responsible party, that's typically the company or the group that's responsible for spilling the oil. In this case, BP took responsibility for that. So they're, of course, funding this operation as being a responsible company.
Monica Trauzzi: Just south of New Orleans Plaquemine's Parish spans 100 miles along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. At its southernmost point lies the small town of Venice, the hub of a commercial fishing industry that is already hanging on by a thread in the wake of Katrina and a tough economic recession.
Billy Nungesser: So, 100 miles long and it's a two-hour boat ride from the last land base, which is Venice, to the mouth of the river. Knowing that, you won't be able to respond as it works its way into the marsh from Venice in a timely manner. BP embraced the idea, made it part of their plan, as did the Coast Guard, and we now have that being mobilized and will be out there tomorrow. That gives me the comfort level that we can stop any oil from getting into the marsh. The little bit of sheen that's in the tidal surge there at the mouth, the fish can get away. It's being mixed up by wave action. If it gets into the marsh around the backside we'll never clean it up and that's when it will be deadly to the food chain.
Monica Trauzzi: Richard Blink, a 23-year-old boat captain and native of Empire, Louisiana, typically spends his days shuttling rig workers from Venice to offshore rigs like the Deepwater Horizon. Blink has been navigating the past Louisiana bayou for most of his life.
Richard Blink: This is the biggest estuary in the country and it's a nursery for all the shrimp and fish that live in the Gulf.
Monica Trauzzi: Blink's stepfather is a commercial oyster fisherman. For his family the potential devastation to the estuaries is staggering.
Ryan Lambert: It's such a vast issue, short of coming around and throwing checks up in the air for everybody to make them happy, and what's that going to do for you? You know, the squeaky gear gets the grease kind of thing. You know, I have no ill feelings toward BP. They're making a living and they don't want to see their oil splattered all over the water and the land because they're paying $6 million a day to clean it up, plus that's more oil that they're not putting in the barrel and selling. So they didn't want this and they're trying to clean it as fast as they can and everybody knows it in the back of their head. But, again, the squeaky gear gets the grease and, you know, I'm not a drum beater. I'm just more of a realist and I know we'll get it cleaned up and hopefully I'll meet with BP in conjunction with the Louisiana Charter Boat Association and we'll get things ironed out eventually. You know, it's going to hurt me financially very, very bad for quite some time. You know, I think a minimum of two years to get back in the water and then after we get back in the water, what will be there? You know, that's my concern, if we kill the larvae and the eggs and the birds stuck with the oil. How long will that take?
Monica Trauzzi: While Louisiana is the most immediate cause for concern, the tides and wind are pulling the spill to the southeast, threatening the shores of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
Valerie Caylor: I don't know. I hope they can contain it, but, you know, I don't know. I don't know what to do. I volunteered. I haven't heard back yet, but I don't know what to do because this is my beach. I love this.
Monica Trauzzi: Ultimately, the Gulf Stream could push the spill around the Florida Keys into the Atlantic and up the northeastern seaboard. Local authorities are looking to the federal government for assistance with the pending devastation. Plaquemine's Parish President Billy Nungesser has met with President Obama and members of the administration to discuss the ongoing efforts to minimize the devastation to the Gulf Coast.
Billy Nungesser: After the president visited yesterday we met for over two hours. He is truly concerned and does care. I've met with several presidents. He wanted to hear the detail and we left there concerned. He doesn't want all the red tape that we've seen in the past. These people have been through four hurricanes and the president and Lisa Jackson was there. We need to cut through the red tape and get these people some help and he agreed and stressed that to the Coast Guard and to his staff there. And I've never seen a president take so much time in making sure all of the issues were covered.
Monica Trauzzi: BP has hired dozens of local fishermen to deploy oil boom in strategic areas along the coast. They hope this will help prevent oil from penetrating the Barrier Islands and the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Billy Nungesser: BP realizes that, got on board, and supported this project, as did the Coast Guard. So, we're on the same team and they have authorized it. They will pay for it and put that team out there as the eyes and ears to make sure we do everything possible to keep it out of the marsh.
Monica Trauzzi: As the oil begins to hit the Louisiana coast, residents and local authorities can only hope for the best and wait.
Valerie Caylor: But it's beautiful today. I mean, right now this is kind of like the day before Katrina. What a beautiful day. The day after was not so pretty.
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