In Louisiana, Local Fishermen Tapped to Help Oil Spill Cleanup Effort

BY Tom Bearden  May 3, 2010 at 11:18 AM EDT

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

There’s a new billboard in Buras, La. A personal injury lawyer is soliciting clients injured by the Gulf Coast oil spill. Other lawyers are running TV commercials on New Orleans stations. According to Bloomberg News Service, more than 30 class action lawsuits have already been filed.

It’s probably just the beginning. The oil company that leased the now-sunken drilling rig had previously announced that it would start accepting “legitimate” claims. Many of those claims will come from fishermen — ironically, the same men who also now want to work for BP.

Early Sunday morning a BP representative stood in the bed of a pickup truck in Hopedale, surrounded by a crowd of fishermen. He spelled out the rules on how they would start deploying large plastic booms along the coastal marshes. Those booms are the last line of defense between the steadily spreading oil slick and Louisiana’s rich crab and shrimp fisheries, and vast oyster beds.

Ever since the well blew out, several local political leaders have been urging BP and its government overseers to tap the experience of the locals and hire them to deploy the booms, arguing that they know more about these waters than any outsiders ever will. The president of St. Bernard Parish, Craig Taffaro, said at first they were ignored, but that now BP and the government are beginning to listen. In an interview with the NewsHour, Taffaro said, “The local municipalities were not invited to the table of discussion at the start with BP executives. Now that we have gotten ourselves to the table we have convinced them that these guys who live and breathe out on the waterways and marshes, they know what’s out there. They know how to address what the threat is.”

So on Sunday morning, St. Bernard fishermen started manhandling the heavy boom segments onto the decks of vessels designed for shrimp, not oil containment gear. Several told us they were grateful for the opportunity to make some money, now that NOAA has officially closed a large swath of the fishing grounds in this area.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s motorcade was headed for Venice, about two hours away on the other side of the peninsula. Taffaro was glad the president came, but also said, “I think what makes a difference is what happens because of his visit. Not because he comes. Certainly we welcome him to the region and we welcome and seek his support. But a visitation — as we have seen in Katrina — doesn’t necessarily mean anything unless the support behind that visit happens and happens quickly.”