BELLE CHASSE, La. — In a parish known for its waterways and marine-heavy ecosystem, Plaquemines Parish has a connection to the Gulf of Mexico like no other.
“A lot of people come here and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a great fishing spot.’ But there’s so much more there is to offer,” said FishSTOCK festival event organizer Braden Yong.
The parish’s natural resources, particularly fish, will turn a field at Cypress Park in Belle Chasse into a new festival called FishSTOCK. Young says it’s aimed to help preserve a way of life.
“It’s bringing together art, science, and parish government and looking at things that are going on,” Young said.
And there’s a lot to ask Shannon Cruz at the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute.
“This large fish collection, the largest in the world, is located in Plaquemines Parish which is another most in terms of land loss,” Cruz said.
Cruz hopes the free festival showcases coastal towns as what she believes them to be; places of economic growth surrounded by at-risk biodiversity.
“It’s a very crucial point in time because we are losing a lot of this biodiversity currently and the more people who care about it, the more of a push we can make to start protecting it,” said Cruz.
The festival is tied to a larger project called “Searching for the Ghosts of the Gulf,” highlighting fish species not seen since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The pancake batfish is one of those species.
“This is what those guys look like,” said Cruz as she held up a glass jar with preserved fish inside. “They actually have feet. Their fins have evolved into feet.”
Cruz says the species is only found off the coast of Louisiana and has been missing since the oil spill.
“It’s a little hard to say it’s because of the deep-water horizon spill is why they’re gone because they’re rare in the first place but I’m sure it hasn’t helped,” said Cruz.
By combining science with a festival, organizers hope a little fun will lead to lasting change.
“It’s so important to continue to educate people who actually live in these places of what’s here,” said Young.
“By bringing more awareness to the issues that are happening in the Gulf and the loss of life going on there, we’re preserving the socioeconomic future of South Louisiana as well,” said Cruz.
The FishSTOCK Festival is on March 25.