BP spill: White House says oil has gone, but Gulf's fishermen are not so sure

Published online: Sep 07, 2010 News Suzanne Goldenberg - www.guardian.co.uk
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An oyster boat sails past anchored fishing vessels on a waterway in Yscloskey, Louisiana. Fishermen fear that the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will cause longterm harm to their industry. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

High tide, and the remains of a late summer storm, and it is hard to tell on this strip of land between the Mississippi and the marsh where land ends and water begins. It was here - in the most southerly reaches of Louisiana on terrain that is slowly sliding into the sea - that oil from BP's Macondo well first started coming ashore, about a week after the 20 April explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. Eleven men were killed when the drilling platform blew up.

And it is here where local people will take the most convincing that the worst of the oil spill is behind them and that recovery is under way.

Barack Obama's point man on the spill, the US Coast Guard's former commander, Thad Allen, said at the weekend that the well no longer posed any threat to the Gulf. Crews will begin the last few remaining operations needed to abandon the well this week.

People here live and die by the water. On a fine day the docks in Venice empty out, with seaworthy boats and able-bodied crew off to look for oil contamination, at sea and in the marsh grass.

No one, it seems, believes the assurances from the White House or government scientists that the oil is largely gone. And no one really believes BP when oil company executives say they will stay in Louisiana for the long haul.

They have seen one exodus already, just before Tropical Storm Bonnie blew through, about a week after the well was capped in mid-July. BP evacuated work crews and boats; many have not returned.

"Oh, the oil's out there," said a captain of one of the air boats chewing through the marsh. When the water is clear the oil pops out like a giant black teardrop. He said the air boats were carrying away up to 3,000 white plastic trash bags of oiled sand from a nearby section of marsh each day. "We'll be here for at least a year - if they still want us, that is."

The autumn shrimping season opened on schedule on 16 August and the authorities have steadily been opening up more of the Gulf for fishing. About 83% of US waters in the Gulf are now open for fishing. The first tests on shrimp, swordfish and tuna hauled out of the Gulf showed no traces of oil.


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