The Gulf Needs More Than BP/Obama Oil Spill Recovery Efforts

Our Citizens Effect Gulf Mission (full team reports here) meetings with nonprofits over the past few days wrapped up. Beyond the incredible environmental damage dealt to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s apparent that an equally damaging blow has been dealt to the fishing communities of the Gulf. As we have learned from the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, the Catholic Charities of New Orleans and others, the vast impact on the Louisiana economy and its cultural way of life have been drastically underestimated by the Obama Administration and BP as reported by the media.

Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board estimates the problem to be a $100-$200 billion economic calamity (see above video). But because of the ongoing PR and legal culpability that’s being fought between the Obama Administration and BP, Gulf states are floundering.

A national disaster has taken place, but we see no FEMA, no disaster relief, no long-term aid. Ships that can remove 85% of the oil are turned away by the EPA, and foreign help is turned away, too, again thanks to federal regulation.

Instead, a $20 billion pledge from BP is supposed to cover it. Culpable, yes. Capable of addressing the widespread calamity resulting from the oil spill? No. The Gulf may be irreparably harmed by not only the oil spill, but by our reaction to it; namely, the Obama Administration’s failure to declare the oil spill a national disaster, and the general U.S. societal turning our backs on this issue and expecting BP to pay for it.

My fellow Citizen Effect Gulf Mission goer and leader Dan Morrison painted an interesting view of it: “The more I learn on the trip, the more it becomes clear that BP can’t and won’t solve this economic disaster. The economic and social problems facing fishing communities due to the oil disaster are local problems that need local solutions. Put it another way: there is no one large top down solution and program that can address this problem). While it is hard for the country to see the impact of the oil spill on fishing families (they are not covered in oil like birds), the stories about how a families livelihood and way of life are endangered are real and tangible.”

The Unfathomable Depth of the Issue

Tony Martinez, owner, Breton Sound Marina

BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program has 2100 vessels signed up, but only 500 working. These guys are not working, and their deckhands are not working. Tony Martinez, owner of the Breton Sound Marina (above) corroborated this. On our trip east yesterday, we heard similar reports from the son of a Vietnamese Fisherman in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Those are the commercial fishermen. Consider the unlicensed ones who harvest fish on a cash basis, the deckhands for these people, as well as those commercial fishermen who may not report all of their income.

These folks cannot get money from BP or the Obama Administration because they don’t have IRS reports. In essence, because they haven’t played by the system, they will be crushed by it. They are out of luck, and at the mercy of nonprofits serving the region like Catholic Charities of New Orleans, Second Harvest and the Greater New Orleans Foundation.

Willie, the Fisherman

The losses will be just staggering for the fishing community. But it extends beyond Gulf seafood. Restaurants and tourism are hurt in all affected states. There’s also Louisiana’s other big industry: Oil. Regardless of the politics behind the moratorium, you are talking 100,000 jobs dedicated to the Louisiana oil industry. Consider job losses of 150,000 people in a region already hit by Katrina and in a recession. was a fund started by the Lousiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board to help the commercially licensed fishing families affected. It has four corporate partners Entergy, Rouser’s, The New Orleans Hornets, Abita beer have started it. The Board’s goal is to raise $100 million in total money. Further the Board’s shows real stories of fisherman.

Empty Boats

But what about the non-commercial licensed fisherman and the deckhands? In addition to the on-the-ground fantastic work of the Catholic Charities and their partners has been set up by Kevin Voissin, eighth generation oyster fisherman. He is taking oil and selling it in vials. Yet Voissin’s work will not be enough to resolve the long-term crisis facing the fishing culture in the Gulf.

A Way of Life Crushed?

Kerry, the Sixth Generation Fisherman II

As discussed in my Plight of the Fishing Family post earlier this week, this reaches far beyond money. We are talking about the possible destruction and ending of a culture.

Gulf fishing communities in the United States have gone back generation upon generation. It’s been the subject of movies (Forest Gump comes to mind) and has even inspired unique fashion and phrases like “down on the bayou.”

The cultural impact of taking away a profession for more than year — let’s be frank here, the overall devastation on the fishing industry will go well beyond 2010 — cannot be underestimated. While the environmental damage the wetlands has been sustaining over time may have accomplished the same result in 30 or 40 years, the sudden end via the Deep Horizon disaster breaks your heart.

Kerry (pictured above and see his story here), a sixth generation fisherman said it best to me: “My father always told me this business was a dying one. But no one imagined it would happen like this.”

What is the answer? Just as we know gulf fishing may have ended, most fishing families aren’t ready to give up yet. Getting them to suddenly become educated or get new vocations — in an ongoing long-term recession — will take more than recognition of the issue. It will take a nationally supported, yet locally driven, community wide solution.

The Plight of the Louisiana Fishing Family

Dream Is Gone

The Citizen Effect Gulf Mission team sat down yesterday with Natalie A. Jayroe, president and CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans (serving 23 south Louisiana parishes). Our ongoing goal remains finding an actionable way for Americans to take positive mindful ways to act in the wake of the Deep Horizon disaster.

Jayroe told us her view of how the fishing families of Louisiana have been affected by the oil spill. The following post is based from that conversation.

An area the size of Great Britain was devastated with Katrina. The entire region had to rebuild, and nonprofits and community realigned themselves to rethink New Orleans. Five years after Katrina they are seeing another devastating disaster, and, it’s been very tough on many fishing families. in once case, a fisher committed suicide.

There is nothing finite right now on how to handle the post oil spill economy. One step forward has yet to be determined. There are 49,000 Louisianans that have fishing licenses, and in all 150,000 people are affected immediately. The oil drilling moratorium has put another 40,000 people out of work.

The secondary and tertiary circles of job loss have yet to be felt in the Gulf. The ripple effect could be huge. The local economy is tourism and oil, so both of the big economic drivers of the state have been challenged.

Fishing is an up and down business. The fishing families of Louisiana are traditional and self sufficient, and do not gladly take government benefits. Fishing families take advantage of federal benefits at a rate 10-20% lower than the rest of the state. They don’t accept help readily. They don’t like case work. They just want to go back to work.

How The Hell Are We Supposed Feed Our Kids Now

Five or six generations of fishing families live by the tides. When this is taken away from them, there is little chance to take on a new career.

Their next job opportunity is often oil rigs. So they are less likely to take swipes at BP, it’s a huge part of their economy.

The fishing families think about how they are going to get through this today and tomorrow. Most of them are still trying to keep the oil off the shores. They liken it to fighting a war, and hope they will be able to shrimp next year. If there’s a way to survive they will do it. They are about subsistence and survival, and they will what they have to live with the land.

To create that next generation of sustenance income would require the community to take on a lot of education work. You would need to do a lot of front line activity with the community to evolve. They would need to band together. Given the fiercely independent culture of the fishing families here, it’s a dubious outcome…

The environmental impact from the oil spill will likely be felt for decades, stifling the marine life and fishing industry. The BP Deep Horizon oil spill may have permanently devastated this fishing culture.

Long Term Impact for Second Harvest

Second Harvest knows this issue will continue a long time after the oil spill is capped. It could take years. The organization estimates that more than 47,500 fishing homes may eventually require food assistance as a result of the Gulf oil spill.

Because it’s not a national disaster declared by the President, federal food commodities (via disaster SNAP) can’t be given out.Fact Check: Louisiana Department of Social Services. If Obama declares the oil spill a National Disaster, BP would no longer be liable. The bailout fund is not necessarily going to benefit the Gulf directly. That means disaster resources are not making it to the Louisiana parishes today.

The organization has already provided 200,000 meals through disaster relief sites in the impacted areas since May 1. The demand is making a direct impact on Second Harvest’s stores before hurricane season, stretching their resources. BP has paid the organization $350,000 to replace these recources.

Second Harvest Food bank became the largest foodbank in history following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The foodbank distributed 8 million pounds of food in September 2005 alone.

Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.