NEW ORLEANS - Three years after the worst oil disaster in American history, fisherman and environmental experts say the Gulf Coast is still reeling from the effects.
Fisherman say their catch is scarce, while Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser says oil is still washing ashore in places like Bay Jimmy.
Three years after the BP oil disaster began, fisherman like George Barisich are still struggling to survive.
“The damage is still ongoing right now,” said Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman's Association. “My shrimp is down 40 percent and my oysters are down 93 percent.”
Barisich believes the spill, and the dispersants used afterward, have interrupted the reproductive cycles for shrimp, crabs and oysters. It could take years to know the full extent of the damage.
“We've got areas that normally produce that haven't produced since the spill,” said Barisich.
The lifelong fisherman believes the spill has forever changed the landscape of fishing in the Gulf.
“If Mother Nature don't fix it, BP is not going to fix it,” said Barisich. “And they're not going to make it right as we've seen time and time and time again.”
A federal trial in New Orleans will determine how many billions of dollars in damages BP and others will have to pay. Eighty percent of that money will go toward restoring the Gulf.
“The worst disaster that ever struck Louisiana might ultimately be the source of its salvation,” said Blaine LeCesne, a Loyola Law professor who has been following the trial closely. “It's the most significant trial for Louisiana in its history.”
The first phase of the trial wrapped up last week. But it could take a year for a federal judge to decide who was at fault, to what extent, and whether they were grossly negligent. The second phase, which begins in September, will determine how much oil was spilled, and what was done to stop it.
“Did it happen because someone was more concerned with profits than with safety? We need to know the answers to those questions and require those companies to repair the damage,” said LeCesne.
So far, BP has paid over $10 billion in claims and settlements, with Louisiana receiving the most of any state. Still, many fishermen say that's not enough as they struggle with an uncertain future, and a challenging present.
Barisich said certain oyster beds are coming back, but he’s concerned that other areas are still barren.