NEW ORLEANS | AP photographer Gerald Herbert has been documenting the BP oil disaster in the Gulf — from the land, sea and air — since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20. In the three months since we last spoke with him, Herbert has followed not only the spill’s effect on wildlife — but also the lingering human and economic tolls.
One woman, Vicki Guillot, stands out in his mind. Herbert visited her in late June, after she was forced to close her sandwich shop. The price of shrimp — the key ingredient in her beloved po’boys — had skyrocketed due to the spill. “All she could get was foreign shrimp, and they were way more than what she could afford,” Herbert said. “To see that loss — her whole world taken away from her — was pretty sad … I still think about her all the time … wondering if she’s OK.”
He’s also documented several compensation meetings with Kenneth Feinberg, the man in charge of the Gulf oil spill claims process. Nervous looks blanketed the rooms, and many people remain worried BP won’t make good on its promises. And there’s also anger. “Some of the fishermen are upset that all of the work that they’ve been hired to do as vessels of opportunity employees — that will be taken away from their settlement, so in fact they were doing the work for free.”
“Saying BP is like saying Katrina around here. It’s a dirty word. It’s not a nice word. And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is sympathetic toward the company,” Herbert said. “Even people who work in the oil industry.”
With the opening of shrimp season last month, Herbert felt the disaster had begun to slowly turn around. “Seeing the shrimping season open and these men able to return to their craft … to me was comforting and it made me feel as though were turning the corner.”
But the question remains whether people will want to buy that shrimp. Herbert hopes the market will turn around. But if it doesn’t, the New Orleans native laughed, “if the rest of the country doesn’t want to eat Louisiana seafood, the way I feel is there is more of it for us.”