The BP oil spill, which began a year ago today, dealt a massive blow to an already stressed industry, and as the region gears up for shrimp season, nothing is certain.
Acy Cooper, head of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, doesn't expect lowered yields for this year's harvest. Lots of adult shrimp got away last year when areas were closed off to commercial fishing, and most of the shrimpers were working for BP anyway. Those shrimp are still in the water. But it's next year's catch that he's worried about.
Adult shrimp may be able to withstand a degree of pollution in the water, but their larvae are another story.
"The larvae and the eggs that were moving through the dispersed oil, they're so sensitive that if anything touches it, it's going to die," Randy Pausina, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told AOL News. "You could have a whole year class of animals pass through that oil and die -- the only way we'll find out is if that fish or shrimp is supposed to show up this year and it's not there."
American shrimpers have been facing dropping prices in the face of foreign imports for decades. And despite the fact that tests have yet to show any signs of hydrocarbon contamination in any sampled seafood, consumers are still wary about buying Gulf seafood at the market, and that depresses prices even further. For some shrimpers, a lost generation would mean selling their boats.
It's a similar story in other areas:
- The oyster industry, which saw massive deaths due to both oil and freshwater diversions designed to push the oil out of the marshes but poisonous to saltwater oysters, may take years before it's back to full productivity.
- Larger fin fish have much longer life spans than smaller creatures like shrimp, and so yearly yield won't be affected as much. But in some cases, as with the blue-fin tuna, the oil may have wiped out a year's young for an already struggling species.
"One captain got $7,000, and a deckhand got $32,000. That's an issue right there in itself," he said. Myself, I got way lower than I needed -- they gave me $16,000. And I've been a fishermen for 35 years. If they think $16,000 is going to settle with me, they got another thing coming."
The state is less than pleased with BP's payments as well.
"Not real happy on that."
Now, even a good harvest carries with it the possibility of catastrophe in the next, and the distorted economy that BP brought with it last year won't last long. For fishermen waiting on compensation checks, projected yields and shrimp prices, the picture is clouded at best.
"When the season opens up and the full fleet gets out there, prices are going to get to nothing," Cooper said. "We're going to have to go out no matter what all happens. Where do we go if we don't go out? We're between a rock and a hard place."