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Gulf Oil Spill Presents New Challenges to Vietnamese Fishermen in Louisiana

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Nathan King

In southern Louisiana, idled fishermen whose fertile fish and shrimping grounds are closed due to that massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are scrambling for another kind of work. British Petroleum is recruiting local crews and boats for the clean up effort. Among the groups hoping for work are the Vietnamese and Cambodian fisherman who live along the Gulf Coast.

They come in large numbers, recruited by BP to help in the clean up. Most speak Vietnamese or Cambodian. According to the Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, approximately 80 percent of commercial fishing licenses in the state are owned by people with Asian surnames.

In his office, Tuan Nyguen fills out the necessary paper work.

Nyguen moved here in the 1980s like many fellow Vietnamese from the fishing regions of the Mekong Delta. He has built a thriving wholesale business, but not without setbacks. Hurricane Katrina wiped him out in 2005. "During Katrina, I lost everything - everything here brand new-brand new," he said.

Nyguen says he has already used his savings to pay fishermen who can't fish and now he is contemplating working for BP - the first time he will work for anyone but himself. "I never done it in my life - I don't, know kind of hard, that's why I am still here - unemployed," he said.

Fellow Vietnamese Chamroeun Kang is hoping to work for BP. He has this shrimp boat and a small skiff -- his wife and he the only crew. Since the shrimping grounds were shut they have lost their livelihood. His only catch today - a catfish caught in the harbor. "I got two boat (sic). I have one big one and one small one right here. If they hire me I go to what boat they want and I would be go  because I need to make money for living you know," he said.

Making this life change is hard on all fishermen, but for the Vietnamese and Cambodians here, the language barrier is an added obstacle in trying to reach out to BP for work and compensation. Members of this community say they're determined to show the same resolve over the coming months as they did 20 years ago when they moved here to start a new life.

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