Fishermen tell Secretary Mabus: Reopening Gulf waters is unsafe

Today President Obama ate a heaping plate of Gulf shrimp at the White House, in an effort to assure America that the Gulf Coast is open for business.
"We're excited that fishermen can go back to work and Americans can confidently and safely enjoy Gulf seafood once again," the President said.

But a group of fishermen from across the Gulf Coast states is speaking up, saying that seafood pulled out of the Gulf now is not safe, and their waters are still filled with oil and toxic dispersants.  These men and women, who depend on harvesting the sea for their survival and way of life, want fishing waters to remain closed until further clean-up and more trustworthy testing is complete.

They suspect that the President has been enjoying shrimp that was caught and frozen before the BP oil and dispersant disaster threatened Gulf waters. This frozen seafood is indeed safe, but reopening the fishing grounds is not.

Mississippi reopened some of its waters for shrimping on August 6th, and Governor Haley Barbour told the Associated Press that seafood caught in the Gulf is safe to eat.

On Saturday, August 7th, these fisherfolk brought their message to the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Secretary Mabus has been charged by President Obama with developing a long-term recovery plan for the Gulf Coast. He toured the Gulf Coast last week for a series of community listening session to inform that plan.

While Secretary Mabus boasted about the shrimp lunch he had just enjoyed and characterized seafood safety as a "marketing" problem, fisherfolk from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama challenged him.

"Our guys want to be able to go back to work. They're fishermen!" said Tracy Kuhns of Barataria, Louisiana. "But they don't want to go out back out there prematurely and bring a product in that is going to make somebody– a family, children, anybody– ill..." 

The fishermen's top three demands are: stop the use of dispersants; don't open fishing grounds until the seafood is proven safe through better testing; and create new jobs that go to local commercial fishermen first.

That unified message came out of two days of meetings between fishermen and advocates from all five Gulf Coast states earlier in the week.  They first took action together at the Gulf of Mexico Alliance meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi, where Mabus was scheduled to speak but canceled (read Derrick Evans's blog post to learn more). 

Fishermen and Press!  If you want to connect with this growing group, please contact:

Tracy Kuhns
Association of Family Fishermen and Louisiana Bayoukeepers
Barataria, Louisiana


Thao Vu
Mercy Housing and Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese American Fisherfolk and Families
Biloxi, Mississippi

There are also representatives of the group in Alabama, Florida, and Texas that they can connect you to.

Thao and Tracy were recently featured on Bridge the Gulf in two video profiles.  Watch here: