Dock Workers in La. Wonder When the Next Shrimp Catch Will Come

BY Tom Bearden  May 29, 2010 at 11:20 AM EDT

Friday morning we watched what is likely the last catch of shrimp from Louisiana’s Barataria Bay for the foreseeable future being unloaded. That’s because early Friday authorities closed down the last remaining parts of the fishing grounds that were still open after oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster invaded what is one of the most prolific fisheries in the world.

Dock workers did what they always do — shovel iced shrimp onto scales, then transfer them to smaller containers for distribution. Many of the men have worked here for most of their lives. Without a catch to process, they’ll have to find other work. That may not be easy for some, who have grade-school educations, in the middle of a recession.

President Barack Obama made a brief visit to south Louisiana Friday, his second. Most of the people around Barataria didn’t stop their work day to watch coverage of the visit, but most we talked to were glad he came. But deckhand Donovan Hinton is convinced the president really doesn’t understand the magnitude of the disaster.

Many are very unhappy with the federal response to the out-of-control well spewing heavy crude onto their beaches and marshlands. Fisherman Michael Roberts said if he had dumped a gallon of oil into the bay he’d face a $25,000 fine, but that BP had spilled millions of gallons and it didn’t seem to matter to the government. He called the company’s actions criminal. His wife Tracy said she felt like federal authorities had been acting like they were working for BP, trying to downplay the size of the disaster.

People who depend on seafood — processors, wholesalers, and restaurateurs from Louisiana to Florida are wondering where their next delivery is going to come from. In Picayune, Mississippi, wholesaler George Lods says sales have dropped by two-thirds because people are now afraid to eat perfectly good seafood. At 51, he has no idea what he will do if the market collapses and his business folds. In his younger days, Lods worked on shrimp boat. He’s plans to volunteer to work on one for free, if he can find one still operating, because he wants to experience that life one more time, in case the oil disaster prevents him from ever going to sea as a fisherman again.

Watch Tom Bearden’s latest Gulf Coast dispatch from Friday’s NewsHour: