Fishermen presenting their concerns and recommendations today regarding the BP oil disaster received a standing ovation today at the Gulf Coast governors' annual Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) meeting.
More than 75 local fishermen from 5 states met Tuesday and Wedneday in Biloxi, Mississippi, where the regional meeting of federal and state officials was taking place.
Convened by several Gulf Coast Fund grantee groups, the fishermen met to identify and organize themselves around common issues and goals stemming from the BP Oil Drilling Disaster and the response of state and federal governments.
Areas of top concern included: the massive use of chemical dispersents to hide BP's oil; the persistent lack of reliable government science on related water and air quality issues; government "spin" and premature re-opening of state and federal waters to fishing; the "Feinburg Claims Process" that begins this month; Rampant unfairness and poor worker health and safety in BP's "Vessels of Opportunity" program; the possibility of creating fishermen's co-ops to ensure economic recovery and justice; and continued organizing of fisherman across gulf coast state lines for possible future actions.
On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of the fishermen, spouses and children marched into the Beau Rivage Casino and straight up to the GOMA meeting to speak directly with governors, top officials from EPA, NOAA, the 5 gulf states, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus himself. With Mabus's 4:00 speech unexpectedly canceled and the elected state leaders Missing In Action as a result, the group was allowed 40 minutes to tell their story to EPA and NOAA brass as well as the conference attendees - who were incredibly attentive with great follow-up questions and dialogue.
Kathy Birren, a commercial fisherman's wife and Florida representative, articulated the group's demands. Riki Ott described the parallels between the Exxon Valdez spill and the BP Drilling Disaster, including the overuse of dispersants and the horrific health effects suffered by Alaska clean-up workers to this day. Scott Sugasti, grandson of Tracy Kuhns, described coughing up blood after fishing near his home in Lafitte, LA and many others told stories of sea turtles swimming with their heads out of the water, flounder jumping out of the water and other bizarre sealife behavior never before seen. Fishermen will not eat seafood from the gulf, refuse to feed it to their children and do not want to feed it to the families and children of our nation. They strongly believed waters have been prematurely re-opened to fishing for economic and public perception interests at the expense of human health.
As a result of Wednesday's action, Bryan Griffin, Director of the Gulf of Mexico Program, offered the group time during Thursday morning's closing plenary session to re-tell their story and re-list their demands.