Commercial fishing communities in Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida have united to demand that local,
state and federal agencies force BP to discontinue the use of toxic
dispersants and conduct better testing before reopening fishing waters.
(Photo: Erika Blumenfeld)
"We need to get our government to get a handle on this situation and shut down our fishing waters until they test for dispersants and get the use of dispersants stopped unless they can prove to us they are not harmful," Kathy Birren, a spokesperson for commercial fishermen in Florida, told Truthout. "We are seeing fish kills. They [US Government and BP] are covering this all up."
Since the BP oil disaster began in late April, the secretary of Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) was granted emergency powers to open and close fishing areas. The department recently announced the opening of three shrimp management zones for August 16. These areas include zones that have been severely affected by the oil disaster. Dates were also set to open fishing for sea trout and harvesting oysters.
These moves are being questioned by commercial fishermen, who are skeptical of the motives of the state and federal governments' decision to begin reopening fishing areas that had been closed by the oil disaster.
Clint Guidry is a Louisiana fisherman and on the board of directors of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, as well as being the shrimp harvester representative on the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force created by Executive Order of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
"The government, both state and federal, is pushing to open all these fishing areas back up and say it is OK, but this is a load of sh*t," Guidry, who is from Lafitte, Louisiana, told Truthout. "It's not OK. They claim 75 percent of the oil is gone or accounted for, but there's still oil coming in. There is more oil in many of our bays, right now, than there has ever been."
Guidry and Birren believe it is far too early for the state or federal governments to allow fishing to resume without more testing for oil and dispersant contamination.
"The government is not testing fish for dispersant," Birren, who is from Hernando Beach, Florida, said. She pointed out that while the west coast of Florida remains largely unaffected by the oil disaster so far, she is concerned about how the Gulf seafood market is being deleteriously affected by the oil disaster.
Her main concern is with the health of people living on the Coast. Another of her concerns is that, without better testing, if contaminated seafood is sold and makes someone sick, the entire market will collapse. "We know the only test they are doing is a smell test on fish," Birren added, "There are lots of things you can be hurt by you can't smell. You're taking these fish and shrimp and putting them on the market and all of the sudden you have a very serious situation. Our fish are healthy, but if other Gulf States are putting contaminated seafood on the market, we'll lose our market and the trust in the industry. They've opened up many fishing areas very recently and it's all in the name of money and minimizing BP's liability."
Regarding BP, Birren said, "They are letting the person who committed the crime clean up the crime scene."
Along with Birren and Guidry, commercial fishermen from Alabama and Mississippi met last week in Biloxi to discuss other unresolved problems associated with the BP oil disaster such as the difficulty of processing claims, unfair hiring practices of the BP Vessels of Opportunity (VOO) Program and lack of jobs.
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, more than 30,000 commercial fishermen and seafood industry related jobs have been lost. Shrimp factories and processors are refusing to buy daily catches due to the negative perceptions of health hazards regarding Gulf seafood.
This newfound alliance of Gulf Coast commercial fishermen is also concerned with the overall health of the Gulf Coast fisheries, as they feel they have been "forever altered as 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants have been sprayed. Studies have shown dispersants mixed with oil are more hazardous than oil itself due to ability for spawning fish to consume small droplets of oil."
Fishermen in the four aforementioned states are also concerned about the BP claim process, stating that it has become "increasingly difficult as no documentation is given to claimant," and, "individual claim amounts have decreased by 80%."
Demands of the commercial fishing community from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida include closing "all fisheries waters until harvests go through chemical dispersant testing," as well as having "the EPA and Coast Guard to discontinue current chemical dispersant use and test all seafood and fisheries with updated testing protocols." The group also wants local commercial fishermen to be hired and trained "for all hazardous testing initiatives and clean-up work in a culturally competent manner," and for "Federal, state and local agencies to develop community based health centers to service at-risk seafood industry population, administer blood tests for those who are exposed to dispersants and oil-clean up."
The main concern right now is that the federal government is continuing to allow BP to use the toxic dispersants.