News

Louisiana Oystermen Still Struggling Two Years After Oil Spill

Tala Hadavi

Almost two years ago an explosion on an offshore drilling rig killed 11 men and sent 4.9 million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The result was the worst environmental disaster in United States history.  Of all the local businesses affected by the spill, Louisiana's once-flourishing oyster industry is probably in the worst condition.  Oysters are still scarce and consumers are still afraid to eat them.

Nearly two years have passed since the accident that changed the Collins brothers' lives.

"We weren't rich like we can travel the world.  But we weren't worried about [paying] our mortgage, putting gas in our truck, putting food on the table. And now those things [have] become worryfull," recalled Nick Collins, a fourth generation oystermen.  "[But now after the spill,] in 90 percent of the area that was affected, all we have are dead shells."

Just like his own 12-year-old son, Nick has been in the family business since he was just a boy. Now…he is not sure he can provide his son the same kind of job security as his father did for him.

"My dad wanted me to go to college. And I didn't. I was like: 'go where? I'm going oystering.' You know this is our legacy," Collins added.

Shortly after the disaster, a $20 billion fund was set up to pay those affected by the spill. The Collins Oyster Company received $44,000. Nick got $14,000, but he says it's not enough.

"BP needs to man up and say 'we killed Louisiana's oyster industry.' Because they did. [At one time,] Louisiana produced 80 percent of the United States' oysters. Now we don't," Collins noted.

Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg was appointed by BP and the Obama administration to implement and administer the fund. Collins and many others in the area have criticized the ad-hoc distribution of the money.  But Feinberg says the criticism goes with the territory.

"You've got to understand that people have suffered terribly.  Death, physical injury, economic loss, [it's all] very emotional.  And you carefully empathize, try and understand where they are coming from, these claimants, but at the end of the day you do a professional job.  And that's what you've been asked to do, so you do it," Feinberg said.

Before the oil spill, Collins Oyster Company used to average 60 to 80 sacks of oysters a day - about 2,700 to 3,600 kilograms.  Last year, things got so bad the company had to shut down for a period.  

And the company where the Collins Brothers sold their oysters for decades is no longer buying them.  

Al Surseri, who runs P&J Oyster Processors and Distributors with his brother, says he now only has two part-time employees.  He says the hardest thing was laying off all the people he grew up with.

"Its more than just employees, they were family members. We knew their kids. They knew our kids. This is one of the most difficult things I've been able to handle emotionally," Surseri said.

Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg notes that payments to fishermen can only do so much.

"I can't make people whole if they are going to lose seven generations of institutional memory.  I can't do that.  Money can't do that.  I can only do the best I can to give people some financial help transitioning and moving forward," Feinberg added.

BP recently released a statement saying it has now settled with the oil-spill victims.  But Collins says he has not received anything. Until he does, he says, he plans on just making ends meet and keeping hope alive for the next generation too.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs