Remember all those commercials during the Olympics by the British oil giant BP?
Robert Barham does.
The secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries recalled, for the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association at their annual conference in Chalmette last week, that all those cheery TV spots left the impression that everything was beautiful, and the communities along the Gulf of Mexico had recovered nicely during the couple years since the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon accident. The accident killed 11, injured 17 and released about 200 million gallons of crude oil off the coast of Louisiana.
Barham said he felt BP executives should have put the “I approve this ad” disclaimer at the end of each commercial, so that viewers would know they were seeing political propaganda.
Not that Barham opposes any final settlement that comes out of current negotiations. “My position is that there has to be triggers in place so that BP doesn’t just write a check and walk away,” Barham said.
BP, according to company press releases, has spent $14 billion on the coast and has set aside $20 billion in a trust to pay claims and litigation settlements.
But many unanswered questions remain and need to be addressed, Barham said. One of several examples would be the impact of the roughly 1.8 million gallons of dispersants used to break up the oil during the 12-week release.
Barham pointed to a study released in late July by a consortium of scientists working at universities along the Gulf Coast that indicates the dispersant killed plankton, the tiny plants and creatures that are part of the food chain for marine life.
Montegut shrimper Lance Nacio, who owns and captains the 55-foot F/V Anna Marie, said the 2012 season to catch brown shrimp in inland waters “was probably one of the worst seasons we’ve ever had. It was horrible.”
Nacio said he saw mats of oil and believes there have been disruptions in the food chain.
“I’m afraid for the white shrimp,” which develop in the estuaries, then move offshore, and for the season which began Monday last week, he said on Thursday.
“There are so many variables that you can blame it on,” Nacio said, ticking off hurricanes and inland flooding events. “But the biggest thing it points to is the oil spill.”
Barham said the statistics for brown shrimp are not compiled yet, but reports from shrimpers like Nacio are not optimistic.
That flies in the face of a July report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which is the federal agency that oversees government policies dealing with the high seas. NOAA predicted the total brown shrimp harvest — 68 percent of which comes from the Gulf waters off Louisiana and Texas — would exceed historical averages.
Harlon Pearce, of the seafood processer Harlon’s LA Fish in Kenner and chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, said Thursday the reports he has been receiving from the shrimpers seem to indicate that much of brown shrimp have moved west of the Atchafalaya River Ship Channel. It seems to be the coastal areas east of the Atchafalaya that are seeing a dramatic drop in brown shrimp harvests, he said.
“But there’s a lot of moving parts. Do we have fewer fishermen out there? Could that be part of the reason?” Pearce said. “These things are not easy to analyze.”
Secretary Barham said public conversation about Louisiana seafood has skewed more to safety than to viability. That’s not a bad thing: Louisiana’s seafood harvest is tested more than any other, he said.
“The food is safe, no question about that. But the system may not be viable,” Barham said. For a $2.4 billion industry that accounts for one in every 70 jobs — most in family-owned concerns that have operated for generations — the long-term sustainability needs to be considered carefully. That’s why Barham is counseling caution before allowing BP to walk away from what scientists call North America’s worst-ever oil spill.
“BP says they’re going to make it right. It is not right, yet,” Barham said.
Mark Ballard is editor of
The Advocate Capitol news
bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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