Aug 16, 2010 5:40 AM by Sharlee Barriere
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Shrimpers trawling Louisiana waters Monday in
the first commercial season since the Gulf disaster don't know what
dangers from the massive BP oil spill still lurk and what market
there will be for their catch if consumers don't believe the
seafood is safe.
Perhaps the biggest fear is that some fisherman might try to
sell oil-contaminated shrimp.
"If you see oily shrimp, you got to throw them back over. Go
somewhere else. It's all you can do. And you hope everyone else
does the same," said Dewayne Baham, 49, a shrimper from Buras.
Louisiana shrimp prices rose soon after the Deepwater Horizon
rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the
spill that eventually spewed 206 million gallons of oil from BP's
blown-out well into the Gulf of Mexico. The price spike was fed by
fears that the shrimp would soon be unavailable.
However, despite state and federal assurances that seafood
reaching the market was safe, demand dropped and prices crashed a
month ago, said Harlon Pearce, a seafood dealer and head of the
state's seafood promotion board.
Ravin Lacoste of Theriot, said he believes his fellow shrimpers
know better than to turn in a bad catch.
"If you put bad shrimp on the market - we in enough trouble now
with our shrimp," Lacoste said. "You might can go in the closed
waters and catch more shrimp. But it ain't worth it."
Pearce did what he could over the weekend to allay fears over
safety. On Friday, he was in a group that set out with several
fishermen on a test run around Grand Isle and Barataria Bay.
They trawled several areas, pulling up nets that held shrimp,
mud, jellyfish or driftwood - all without the signs or telltale
smell of oil.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke also will be in Louisiana on
Monday to lunch with fishermen and talk to seafood industry
representatives. The spill has put a crimp in the fishing industry
in a state that ranks first in the nation in producing shrimp, blue
crab, crawfish and oysters, which are a $318-million-a year
business in Louisiana.
Seafood testing begins when there's no longer visible oil in a
particular area. First, inspectors smell samples for oil. Then
comes testing at federal or state laboratories. To reopen seafood
harvesting, the samples must test below Food and Drug
Administration-set levels of concern for 12 different potential
cancer-causing substances. BP also used chemical dispersants to
break up the crude, but the government has not yet developed a test
for the materials in seafood.
Shrimpers also are concerned about how much they'll be able to
make on their product.
"I don't think people are worried so much about the resource,
but the price," said Rusty Gaude, fishery agent for LSU Sea Grant
And fishermen need to know what waters are open.
Slowly, more and more waters closed because of the spill are
reopening. However, shrimping remains forbidden in federal waters
off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and most of the catches
have come off Texas and Florida, said Roy Crabtree, the regional
administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service's southeast
Commercial shrimpers are heading out as the last of a relief
well meant to plug forever BP's runaway well is being drilled.
Engineer John Wright has never missed his target over the years,
successfully drilling 40 relief wells that were used to plug leaks
around the world. People along the Gulf Coast and others are hoping
he can make it 41-for-41.
"Anyone who has ever worked extremely hard on a long project
wants to see it successfully finished, as long as it serves its
intended purpose," Wright, 56, who is leading the team drilling
the primary relief well, said in a lengthy e-mail exchange with The
BP began work on its primary relief well in early May. But about
two weeks ago, around the time the company had done a successful
static kill pumping mud and cement into the top of the well,
executives and the government began signaling that the bottom kill
procedure might not be needed.
But retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point
man on the spill, said the relief well would be finished so the
well could be killed. The bottom kill, in which mud and cement will
plug the well from below the seafloor, won't be started until at
least next weekend.
Despite the waters reopening, many fishermen distrust state
wildlife officials and may be reluctant to head out right away,
said Patrick Hue, 49, a shrimper out of Buras.
"Nobody wants to rush into this and then someone gets sick on
the seafood and the first thing you know, no one wants to buy our
seafood," he said.
Seafood dealer Pearce, however, said many shrimpers will be
unable to resist.
"Opening day is like a religion to these people," he said.
"It's a way of life down here."