Dispatch from Louisiana: Fishermen Voice Their Frustrations on Oil Spill

BY Tom Bearden  May 1, 2010 at 12:39 PM EST

Oil booms in waters near the Louisiana coast; Photo by AFP/Getty

Correspondent Tom Bearden is reporting from Louisiana on the impact of the Gulf Coast oil spill and filed this dispatch for the Rundown on Saturday.

The weather isn’t cooperating.

For several days after BP’s leased oil rig exploded and sank, northerly winds kept the steadily growing oil slick away from the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama shoreline. But this morning in Venice, La., the flags are snapping and the palmettos are swaying in a strong southeasterly wind that is steadily driving more oil toward the coast. And the forecast is for thunderstorms over the next several that will drive the slick even faster.

Last night there was a chaotic meeting between representatives of BP and several hundred fishing boat captains in the local school gymnasium. For several days local officials have been urging the cleanup authorities to hire local boat captains to help deploy the floating booms that act as barricades to the oil. BP called the fishermen together to encourage them to sign contracts that would allow the company to hire their boats on a daily basis.

The meeting was supposed to start at 5:00, but the actual contract paperwork didn’t arrive until 6:00. When the first batch finally did arrive, there weren’t enough to go around. More forms trickled in over the next hour and Sheriff’s deputies were pressed into service to distribute them. Anxious fishermen crowded around, sometimes pressing the officers into corners.

Fishermen Jim Mello, Johnny Bourdeoif and Johnny Graham and others wait to hear from a BP company representative; Photo by AFP/Getty
Fishermen Jim Mello, Johnny Bourdeoif and Johnny Graham and others wait to hear from a BP company representative in Venice, La., on Friday. Photo by AFP/Getty

Several fishermen expressed anger and frustration with BP and their government supervisors. Some clearly didn’t trust the company and asked whether they would lose their chance at jobs if they had their lawyers review the documents. They were assured that they wouldn’t. But the company also made it clear that signing the contract didn’t guarantee work. The contracts specify a day rate for the jobs, and the crowd seemed to think the rate was fair.

But many were concerned about how quickly they would be reimbursed for expenses, like fuel. It costs hundreds of dollars to fuel their vessels, and several told us they couldn’t afford to carry those expenses for very long.

The fishermen are eager for the work because they can’t actually go fishing because of spill, and it’s unclear when they might be able to resume. They can’t afford to sit idle either, because they still have to make payments on the loans that allowed them to buy the boats, not to mention feed their families.

Tom Bearden will have a new report on the oil spill on Monday’s NewsHour. You can also track the latest news and developments from the Times Picayune in New Orleans right here.