Gulf Coast Communities: Feeling the Economic Impact of the Oil Spill - Part One

Authors: Dan Martin

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Two weeks ago, I flew down to New Orleans to help coordinate several days of meetings and video interviews related to the BP oil catastrophe. Green For All wanted to tell the stories of how the spill was affecting the communities of the Gulf Coast on the ground. When I went down there, I didn't know much about the spill or its impact on the people of the Gulf Coast — just what the media had reported. The people I met there taught me a lot. This is the first of two posts in which I'm going to do my best to pass some of that knowledge along.

Part One: Theresa's Seafood Inc.

I interviewed a Vietnamese family who operates a fishing pier in New Orleans. The leader of the family, an elderly woman named Theresa Nguyen, told me how the spill had affected her family, her employees and others in the Vietnamese fishing community of the Gulf Coast. To help me understand, she also told me the story of how she and her family came to New Orleans, and what they had built together prior to the BP oil spill.

Theresa came to the U.S. in 1985. She immediately began working in the fishing industry to help support her family, usually in fish and seafood processing plants. By 1994, her family had saved enough money to buy a pier and begin a fish processing and brokerage business; they dealt in oysters, crabs and shrimp. In ten years, they had built an operation that, at any given time, employed 15 - 25 people.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, the resulting devastation all but wiped out their business. In the last few years, Theresa's family has struggled to rebuild the operation. A lot of hard work yielded a feel-good success story. Earlier this year, the family business was servicing approximately 350 fishing boats on a regular basis, buying and processing the fish caught along the Gulf Coast.

Then BP's Deepwater Horizon exploded, and oil began pouring into the Gulf.

As soon as the spill began, the federal government closed almost 20% of the federal waters where most of the fishing is done. On the day we visited Theresa and her family, a single employee was shucking a small crate of oysters; where four semi-trucks would normally be waiting to haul the catch of the day away, there were none. Theresa told me that BP had contacted her only once, with no follow up. The government has not contacted her at all. Communication is irregular and sparse, and people have no idea what is going to happen. Theresa also worries about her employees. She says it will be hard for them to find work because the fishing industry is all they know. Her son Vincent confided that he fears his family could end up homeless.

Theresa's story is all too common. Those who make their livings off the Gulf's sea life are facing hard times. And they aren't the only ones. Stay tuned for my next report on this visit to New Orleans, where I share more stories from the people who live and work in the areas impacted by the oil spill.

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