US oil spill: Fishing villages 'on the edge'

Image caption,
Some fishing boats are now being used to help BP control the slick

Louisiana's shrimping season officially begins on Monday but the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has killed any sense of optimism, reports the BBC's Robyn Bresnahan.

George Barisich's fishing boat has survived three major hurricanes - Gustav, Ike and Katrina.

"My house was underwater, but she survived," he says, giving the boat a loving pat.

But Mr Barisich fears what will sink his commercial fishing business once and for all is not a natural disaster, but a man-made one.

"People laugh at us when we say this oil spill could be worse than Katrina, but we ain't joking," he says.

As he heats up a huge plate of shrimp pasta in the boat's microwave, George says he is worried that the spill will be last straw for many people in this tight-knit fishing community of Bayou La Loutre, Louisiana.

"I'm seeing the same gazed look that we saw after Katrina, the same look of hopelessness and despair. People are just going to give up. They've been through too much," he says.

Until more toxicity testing is completed on the waters where Mr Barisich usually fishes for seafood, his boat is anchored.

"And that's the hardest part, because fishing is in our blood here. When you're not doing it, you don't know what to do," he says.

Fishing for oil

Many fishermen have taken work with contractors for BP, trying to contain the spill. Mr Barisich's good friend, Charles Robin III, is one of them.

"My shrimping nets ain't catching shrimp now, they're catching oil," he says.

Image caption,
The fishermen blame BP, but there is also anger at the government

Fishing is in his blood too. He is a fifth-generation shrimper, and has passed the trade on to two of his sons.

He says he can smell the oil and the dispersant on most days. He has also noticed an oily sheen on the canal in Bayou La Loutre that he has never seen before.

"It's getting closer, and that ain't good," he says.

Mr Robin's wife, Lisa, says the spill has had a dramatic impact on the whole family.

"At home, it doesn't feel like home any more. The stress level is so high," she says.

"We're watching the news every day to see the areas impacted by the oil. It's the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night."

The eldest son in the Robin family breaks down in tears when he thinks about the prospect of the oil spill ruining their livelihoods.

"It really makes you mad because, all my life, I've been working with my daddy. To think this oil could ruin that," he says as he puts his head in his hands and sobs.

Who to blame

Mr Robin says he blames BP for a disaster that could have been prevented, but he also wants President Barack Obama to stop giving press conferences and start giving his family help.

"I was actually mad when I saw President Obama on television," he says.

"He said his little girl pokes her head around the corner while he's brushing his teeth and asks if the hole in the well has been plugged.

"That's a fact in his family. My little boy gets up in the morning and asks, 'Daddy, are we ever going to fish again?'"

Mr Barisich comes over with a plate of shrimp pasta and hands it to his friend. He agrees that Mr Obama has not done enough, but puts most of the blame on BP.

"BP makes statements like 'Oh, it's a big Gulf', and the chairman says it's just business and says that he sleeps well at night," he says.

"You wonder why we get upset."

Mr Barisich says he has not been sleeping because he is so worried for the future.

"A man's got to have a hope, some kind of light at the end of the tunnel," he says.

"Without it, you're gonna get so low and just say, screw it, I'm done."

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