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Oil Spill’s ‘Fisheries Failure’ May Signal End of Coastal Towns

By Aaron Kuriloff

May 1 (Bloomberg) -- Frank Campo thinks the oil spill approaching the marshes east of New Orleans may destroy his community.

Campo, who runs Campo’s Marina in St. Bernard Parish’s Shell Beach, says the response to the spill is too little and too late to prevent economic disaster for the commercial and recreational fishermen who earn a living from the coast.

“My family’s got over 100 years in this place and we’re liable to lose it because these guys are sitting on their hands,” he said in an interview.

State agencies today closed recreational and commercial fishing and shut down the oyster harvest in most areas east of the Mississippi River. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindalsent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, asking Locke to declare a “commercial fisheries failure” and requesting assistance for both the seafood industry and recreational fishing businesses.

Jindal wrote that those businesses are crucial to Louisiana’s coastal towns and the country, supplying almost one- third of the seafood in the lower 48 states, with values in excess of $2.85 billion a year.

“As the largest provider of domestic seafood in the continental United States, protection of Louisiana’s fisheries, habitats and catch are critical to our nation’s economy and food supply,” he wrote. “The seafood industry is not only a large economic driver, but a defining element of the unique culture, and a crucial tourist draw to the state.”

Response to Spill

At Shell Beach, Parish Councilman Frank Everhardt Jr. sat in his truck near the boat ramp answering questions from a half- dozen angry fishermen and vowing to help everyone find ways to make a living. He also criticized the response to the spill, saying the parish needs 42 miles of boom to protect its oyster bedding grounds. So far, it has 20,000 feet.

“This is going to be the biggest economic disaster to hit Louisiana,” he said. “It could be 10 times the economic damage of Hurricane Katrina.”

Joe Melton, a crabber from nearby Reggio, said that at least there was work for those who returned after storm to St. Bernard, where almost all of the parish’s 27,000 dwellings were flooded. He said he never wanted to live anywhere other than these towns, strung along the boat-lined bayous, where new vacation camps stand next to rubble left from the storm.

“I was gone three years, five months, 10 days and 12 hours and I came back because this is my home,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “This makes Katrina look like a birthday party.”

About two miles away in Hopedale, Malcolm “Mally” Assevado, owner of the Southern Foods oyster dock, supervised workers loading the day’s last sacks onto a truck from a 40-foot boat docked on the roadside bayou. He said he didn’t know what his neighbors would do now.

“Most commercial fishermen here are in their 50s and 60s,” he said. “They’re not going to go out and get another job.”

Campo, 68, said his marina can’t survive long without the men and women who make their living in the marsh. He pointed to a new concrete slab adjacent his hoist and said he’d halted work on a building meant for the spot.

“If a guy can’t go fishing, and a guy can’t go crabbing and a guy can’t go get oysters, what good is the fuel?” he asked. “If they shut you down for four, five, maybe 10 years, what are you supposed to do in the meantime?”

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