Gulf Beach Town Fights New Oil and Prays for More Fish

As clean up crews still scour the beaches and marshes of southeast Louisiana to mop up oil that recently washed ashore, the Coast Guard confirmed the responsible party was an Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners oil well in shallow waters of the Gulf. But according to the Wall Street Journal, a company statement says it “continues to question these findings, given that the well in question is non-producing and has been monitored closely for the last six months."

No matter whose oil it is, watching workers scraping oil off their shores again is like a bad case of déjà vu for residents of Grand Isle. Betty Doud was out photographing oil impacts on the island yesterday when she saw workers using high powered hoses to spray oil off rocks. “They were using pressure washers to push the oil off the rocks and into the water. They stopped spraying when I got close, but I came back and got one good shot of it.”

Workers blasting oil off rocks into the water on Grand Isle          Photos by Betty Doud

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is still investigating a huge 100-mile slick of dark oil-like substance near the Chandeleur Islands east of the Mississippi River. Last night Rachel Maddow reported that the Coast Guard believes these slicks contain only traces of oil and that local scientists think it’s mostly dead plankton blooms. The BP oil disaster didn’t really go away, quipped Maddow, but  "morphed from oil plumes into dead zones.”

But other problems are also emerging in the troubled waters of Grand Isle. One of the most discouraging reports comes from the commercial fishing community, which is counting on a good year to bounce back from the BP disaster. Karen Hopkins of Grand Isle’s Dean Blanchard Seafood, one of the biggest shrimp buyers in the Gulf, says commercial catches of many species aren’t encouraging. “Catches of nearly everything so far this year are way off,” she says.

During the first three months of this year, Dean Blanchard  bought just 5,281 pounds of sea bob, small shrimp often caught in the winter, compared to 35,740 pounds during the same period in 2009.  Karen says catches of black drum, sheephead and vermillian snapper are down significantly this year too. And she worries this may not be the end of it. “Boat captains are terrified this will be like the Exxon Valdez. They had decent catches for several years until some species couldn’t reproduce and everything crashed.”

Now, Karen says, she gets up in the morning in her remodeled beach house and watches cleanup crews pick up tar balls and dead sea life off the shores. Recently, a Porta-Potty was placed on the beach in front of her view of the sea.

“It’s disgusting,” she says. “It’s hard not to get down and out.”

Oil residue on beach near Grand Isle                                         Photo by Betty Doud

It will take a lot more to knock Karen and her neighbors out of this place. They settled in Grand Isle for a reason, the beauty of the sea, the independence of a fishing community. It will take more than bad storms and hard economic times to force them to move.