Fishermen angry as BP pushes to end payments for future losses

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 8, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 8 at 10:23 PM

Monica Hernandez / Eyewitness News

ST. BERNARD, La. - Bruce Guerra has been a crab fisherman in Yscloskey for 25 years. And since the BP oil spill, he began seeing alarming differences in his catch.

"I guess where he was, he probably was in oil," said Guerra, as he showed Eyewitness News a crab he'd recently caught. "See how this is all black?"

Guerra said crabs have been coming up dead, discolored, or riddled with holes since last year's spill.

Now Guerra, and many of the crabbers that work for him, said they're trapping 75 percent fewer crabs than they were pre-oil spill.

"After they closed and reopened the area we was fishing in, the crabs was there," said David Frazier, a commercial fisherman in Yscloskey. "And this year, the crabs ain't there."

But while fisherman say they continue to suffer financial losses from the spill, BP says the Gulf's economy has recovered.

In a document released to the public Friday, BP said the Gulf recovered from last year's spill at the end of 2010 and its economy is still going strong.

The British oil company argued there is no reason to believe that anyone would suffer future losses from the spill, with the limited exception of oyster harvesters. But there's a catch.

To get a payout for future losses, BP argues oyster harvesters should have to prove their beds were destroyed by oil from the spill, not from the state's freshwater diversion afterward.

According to BP, no claimant has documented evidence that their oyster bed was destroyed by oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

"Since the beginning I didn't get paid right," said Ryan Guerra, a longtime Yscloskey oyster harvester. "I'm tired of it. I'm tired of fighting with them. I'm disgusted."

Guerra said 70 percent of his latest harvest was dead.

And while BP argues most victims of the spill should no longer get payouts for anticipated future loses, those in the fishing industry say it could take years to fully realize the spill's effects.

"The problem is right when they used the dispersants, that's when the tuna came to the Gulf to spawn," said Cheril Carey, a national sales representative for a Louisiana company specializing in yellow fin tuna. "It takes a tuna five to 15 years to mature. So although we may have fish now, we may not have them in five to 15 years."

Those in the crabbing industry are also worried about the future because this year many crabs had no eggs.

"I see where it's going to be long-term because it's showing it this year already," said Frazier.

But BP believes otherwise, while those like Guerra are left to wonder what's next.

The changes BP is recommending haven't been finalized. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, run by Ken Fienberg, would have to approve them first.

According to BP, if any oil spill victim doesn't agree with the final payment method, they can file for an interim payment instead. An interim payment would compensate victims for substantiated past loses, and they don't have to sign a waiver of liabilty.

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