St. Bernard fishermen brave rough weather to stop oil slick


by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

Posted on May 2, 2010 at 5:31 PM

Updated Sunday, May 2 at 5:46 PM

ST. BERNARD, La. -- Dozens of St. Bernard fishermen braved strong winds and high seas on Sunday to try and help contain the oil spill. A small flotilla of boats headed out to the coast to lay out oil containment boom, in the hopes of protecting their parish and their livelihoods.

"It's a tragedy. Worse than Katrina," said fisherman Kevin Diaz.

For these fishermen, making a living hinges on gathering seafood in the waters off of St. Bernard Parish. Yet, their livelihoods have been effectively shut down, as hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spew into Gulf of Mexico each day from a damaged wellhead, located 5,000 feet underwater.

"It's going to kill all the oysters and the fish," Diaz said. "It's all going to be gone."

"The scope of the damage here, you can't visualize it because it's not over," said George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen's Association.

Despite the dire circumstances and rougher weather, dozens of fishermen launched their boats out of Hopedale on Sunday morning. They headed out to the far eastern fringes of St. Bernard, where the land gives way to the water. They laid hundreds of feet of oil containment boom, which they hope will prevent oil from reaching their parish.

"This basically takes what the contractors have in place and quadruples it, in terms of manpower and force," said St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro. "These guys are motivated. We're putting our natural resources into effect and letting them go protect their livelihoods and join the force that we need out there."

The idea behind the effort is to protect the coastal marshes of St. Bernard, which reach into Breton Sound like fingers. The entire area is now in the direct path of the oil slick. Breton Sound and the coastal marshes aren't just rich in fish, oysters and crabs: they are also home to a number of species. Dolphins swim in the water there and dozens of birds use the marshes for nesting. All are at risk because of the oncoming oil slick.

"Hopefully, the Coast Guard and BP [British Petroleum] will figure out a way to cap that well sooner, rather than later," Taffaro said. "But while they work on that problem, we have to work on our solutions."

The solutions may not be perfect, but for the fishermen, it's a start.