Some blaming bad shrimping seasons on BP

July 3, 2012 8:19:14 PM PDT
Two years after the BP oil spill, shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico say things have changed for the worse. Some say they're hesitant to take settlement money from BP because the catch has been so bad the last two years, and they're not sure when it will get better.

From the docks of Chalmette to the quiet waters of Delcambre in Louisiana, business is slow.

"It's been bad two years in a row," Delcambre shrimper Jimmie Dupre said.

That business is shrimp, and the shrimpers say they've never seen anything like 2011 and 2012.

"Right now it's brown shrimp and it's small," Chalmette shrimper Phuc Tran said.

"In my 55 years, that's the worst two years I've seen," Dupre said.

Brown shrimp season started in June, and the shrimpers say the catch is smaller, less plentiful and selling for less money.

They blame the BP oil spill, when 4.9 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Tran isn't optimistic about what he'll catch this year.

"The first day on opening, we drop anchor and go to sleep. There are no shrimp," he said.

But Dr. Steve Pennings, a University of Houston scientist who studies the Gulf ecosystem, says there's no proof the bad catch is a result of the oil spill.

"Conclusively saying this year is bad because of the oil spill is a challenge because fisheries go up and down from year to year for lots of reasons," Pennings said.

Out on the docks of Delcambre, we found Dupre and his wife on their boat.

"This was an eight-day trip and I just stayed four days," he said.

Their shrimping trip was cut short because they weren't catching enough shrimp to break even. He hasn't yet taken BP settlement money.

"What they're offering, if we'd have had a good year last year and a good year this year, that would've been splendid," Dupre said.

Part of the problem is that many of the fishermen don't know when shrimping will get back to normal. Some of them say they won't be able to make ends meet for very long.

"Right now the average they pay for the shrimp we catch is about a dollar to a $1.20 a pound," Tran said.

At UH, Pennings says the marsh bugs of the Gulf recovered quickly.

"A year later most of those insects had recovered," he said.

But it's hard to say how long the creatures of deeper waters might be affected.

"It's easy to say the oil spill is the most likely cause, but really making it the certain cause is hard," Pennings said.

Meanwhile, there are lots of theories as to what happened to the shrimp.

"I think what happened with the oil spill is mostly the dispersant that they sprayed, worse than the oil," Dupre said.

But there's not enough shrimp and not enough money and not much certainty about the future.

Dozens of New Orleans' Vietnamese American shrimpers also filed a lawsuit, claiming BP discriminated against them in the cleanup.

The lawsuit accuses BP of violating the fishermen's civil rights, by emailing its cleanup contractors DRC, Danos and Curole, demanding they not hire the Asian American fishermen. The lawsuit says more than half of the shrimping fleet in New Orleans is Vietnamese or Cambodian American. And of the fishermen hired in the vessels of opportunity program, about 10 percent were Asian American.

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