Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Despite Heavy Oil, Louisiana Keeps Fisheries Open

By Dahr Jamail

NEW ORLEANS, Oct 26, 2010 (IPS) - Massive slicks of weathered oil were clearly visible near Louisiana's fragile marshlands in both the East and West Bays of the Mississippi River Delta during an overflight that included an IPS reporter on Oct. 23. The problem is that, despite this, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has left much of the area open for fishing.

Four days prior, on Oct. 19, federal on-scene cleanup coordinator for the BP oil disaster, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, declared there was little recoverable surface oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both bays cover an area of roughly 112 square kilometres of open water that surround the Southwest Pass, the main shipping channel of the Mississippi River. While East Bay remains closed for fishing, West Bay was open for fishing when IPS spotted the oil on Oct. 23, despite the fact that the day before a BP oil cleanup crew had reported oil in West Bay to a local newspaper.

"They are literally shrimping in oil," Jonathan Henderson, the Coastal Resiliency Organiser for the environmental group Gulf Restoration Network, who was also on the flight, exclaimed as our plane flew over shrimpers trawling in the oil-covered area.

Others remain concerned about the use of toxic dispersants that BP has used to sink the oil.

"Potential ecosystem collapse caused by toxic dispersant use during this disaster will have immediate and long-term effects on the Gulf's traditional fishing communities' ability to sustain our culture and heritage," Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Shrimp Association told IPS.

"This has been an exercise in lessening BP's liability from day one. I think we're moving into a situation where the PR is saying the area is safe to fish and it's safe to eat, but that's not the reality," he said.

The waters in the East and West Bays are under the jurisdiction of Louisiana's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), while waters further from the coast are under federal jurisdiction. LDWF does receive input, however, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Earlier on the same day IPS spotted the oil, a spotter pilot for LDWF had flown over the same area and told Southern Seaplanes there was no oil.

"He is the spotter for LWDF and saw that bay, and it is still open," Henderson told IPS. "He should have closed the bay for fishing. So now you can see how sophisticated they are in tracking this. Either this guy is completely incompetent, or has an agenda to keep as much of Louisiana's waters open for fishing as he can, whether there is oil or not. I don't see how he could have flown down there today and not seen it. It's criminal."

When IPS called the LWDF requesting to talk with the LDWF oil spotter, department officials said "that person is not available to comment".

The LWDF website has a number to call in order to report oil sightings. When IPS called that number, the call was answered by a BP response call centre.

On Oct. 23, the Coast Guard claimed that the substance floating in the miles-wide areas of West Bay appeared to be "an algal bloom".

Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil said a pollution investigator for the Coast Guard collected samples from the area, and while they had yet to be tested, "based on his observation and what he sees in the sample jars, he believes that to be an algal bloom."

Fishermen who have traveled through and fished in the area over the weekend, however, refuted these Coast Guard claims.

"I scooped some up, and it feels like oil, looks like oil, is brownish red like all the dispersed oil we've been seeing since this whole thing started," fisherman David Arenesen, from Venice, Louisiana, told IPS.

"It doesn't look like algae to me. Algae doesn't stick on your fingers, and algae isn't oily," he said. "The area of this stuff spans an area of 30 miles, from Southwest Pass almost all the way over to Grand Isle, and runs very far off-shore too. We rode through it for over 20 miles while we were going out to fish, I dipped some up, and it's oil."

Arenesen saw the substance on Friday, the same day it was reported by the Times Picayune newspaper in New Orleans.

"It was at least an inch thick, and it went on for miles," Arenesen said, adding, "It would be easy to clean since it's all floating on the surface."

IPS spoke with Gary Robinson, a hook and line mackerel commercial fisherman working out of Venice who was also in the substance in question recently.

"I was out in West Bay on Oct. 22, and I was in this thick brown foam, about five inches thick, with red swirls of oil throughout it, and there was a lot of it, at least a 10-mile patch of it," Robinson said while speaking to IPS on his boat. "I've never seen anything like that foam before, the red stuff in it was weathered oil, and there was sheen coming off my boat when I came back into harbor. I'm concerned about the safety of the fish I'm catching."

Dean Blanchard, of Dean Blanchard Seafood Inc. in Grand Isle, Louisiana, spoke with IPS about the Coast Guard claim that the substance was likely algae.

"Hell, we got oil coming in here every day, it's all around us, we know what oil is," Blanchard said. "The Coast Guard should change the colour of their uniform, since they are working for BP. We've known they are working for BP from the beginning of this thing. None of us believe anything they say about this oil disaster anymore."

"Everyone, including the feds, are talking about the fact that less of the oil actually reached the surface than was below," Captain Dicky Tupes of Southern Seaplanes told IPS, "And now we're seeing some of that submerged oil surface here. How long will this go on?"

The East Bay area appeared to be completely covered in kilometres-long strands of weathered oil of various colors. While flying approximately 16 linear kilometres across the bay, IPS saw nothing but streaks of the substance across the surface.

"That oil is covering just about the entire length of Southwest Pass," Tupes said.

A recent month-long cruise by Georgia researchers reported oil on the sea floor that they suspect is BP's. While government officials question whether there is oil on the sea floor, the Georgia scientists say the samples "smelled like an auto repair shop".

The research team took 78 cores of sediment and only five had live worms in them. Usually they would all have life, said University of Georgia scientist Samantha Joye, who went on to call the affected area a "graveyard for the macrofauna".

"The horrible thing is they've been inundated with this oily material... There's dead animals on the bottom and it stinks to high heaven of oil," Joye added.

University of South Florida's Ernst Peebles said the oil on the floor if the Gulf "is undermining the ecosystem from the bottom up".


Mississippi Shrimpers Refuse to Trawl, Fearing Oil, Dispersants

Mississippi Shrimpers Refuse to Trawl, Fearing Oil, Dispersants
By Dahr Jamail*

BILOXI, Mississippi, Aug 20, 2010 (IPS/IFEJ) - The U.S. state of Mississippi recently reopened all of its fishing areas. The problem is that commercial shrimpers refuse to trawl because they fear the toxicity of the waters and marine life due to the BP oil disaster.

"We come out and catch all our Mississippi oysters right here," James "Catfish" Miller, a commercial shrimper in Mississippi, said in an interview. Pointing to the area in the Mississippi Sound from his shrimp boat, he added, "It's the only place in Mississippi to catch oysters, and there is oil and dispersants all over the top of it."

On Aug. 6, Mississippi's Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, in coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, ordered the reopening of all Mississippi territorial waters to all commercial and recreational finfish and shrimp fishing activities that were part of the precautionary closures following the BP oil rig disaster in April. At least five million barrels flowed into the Gulf before the well was shut earlier this month.

But Miller, along with many other commercial shrimpers, refuses to trawl.

Miller took this reporter out on his shrimp boat, along with commercial shrimper Mark Stewart, and Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group working to document and alleviate the effects of BP's oil disaster.

The goal was to prove to the public that their fishing grounds are contaminated with both oil and dispersants. Their method was simple – they tied an absorbent rag to a weighted hook, dropped it overboard for a short duration of time, then pulled it up to find the results. The rags were covered in a brown oily substance that the fishermen identified as a mix of BP's crude oil and toxic dispersants.

Miller and Stewart, who were both in BP's Vessels of Opportunity programme and were trained in identifying oil and dispersants, have been accused by some members of Mississippi's state government of lying about their findings.

"Why would we lie about oil and dispersant in our waters, when our livelihoods depend on our being able to fish here?" Miller asked IPS. "I want this to be cleaned up so we can get back to how we used to live. But it doesn't make sense for us or anyone else to fish if our waters are toxified. I don't know why people are angry at us for speaking the truth. We're not the ones who put the oil in the water."

This reporter watched Miller and Stewart conduct eight tests in various places around Mississippi Sound. One of them was less than a quarter mile from the mouth of Pass Christian Harbor, and another was less than one mile from a public beach. Every single test found the absorbent rags stained with brown oil.

During an earlier test round, the two fishermen brought out scientist Dr. Ed Cake of Gulf Environmental Associates.

Dr. Cake wrote of the experience: "When the vessel was stopped for sampling, small, 0.5- to 1.0-inch-diameter bubbles would periodically rise to the surface and shortly thereafter they would pop leaving a small oil sheen. According to the fishermen, several of BP's Vessels-of- Opportunity (Carolina Skiffs with tanks of dispersants [Corexit?]) were hand spraying in Mississippi Sound off the Pass Christian Harbor in prior days/nights. It appears to this observer that the dispersants are still in the area and are continuing to react with oil in the waters off Pass Christian Harbor."

Shortly thereafter, Miller took the samples to a community meeting in nearby D'Iberville to show fishermen and families. At the meeting, fishermen unanimously supported a petition calling for the firing of Dr. Bill Walker, the head of Mississippi's DMR, who is responsible for opening the fishing grounds.

On Monday, Aug. 9, Walker, despite ongoing reports of tar balls, oil, and dispersants being found in Mississippi waters, declared "there should be no new threats" and issued an order for all local coast governments to halt ongoing oil disaster work being funded by BP money that was granted to the state.

Recent days in Mississippi waters have found fishermen and scientists finding oil in Garden Pond on Horn Island, massive fish kills near Cat Island and Biloxi, "black water" in Mississippi Sound, oil inside Pass Christian Harbor, and submerged oil in Pass Christian, in addition to what Miller and Stewart showed IPS and others with their testing.

"We've sent samples to all the news media we know, here in Mississippi and in [Washington] D.C.," Stewart, a third generation fisherman from Ocean Springs, said in an interview. "We had Ray Mabus's people on this boat, and we sent them away with contaminated samples they watched us take, and we haven't heard back from them."

Raymond Mabus is the United States secretary of the Navy and a former governor of Mississippi. President Barack Obama tasked him with developing "a long-term Gulf Coast Restoration Plan as soon as possible."

Mabus has been accused by many Gulf Coast fishermen of not living up to his task.

Stewart said, "Normally we have a lot of white shrimp in the Sound right now. You can catch 500 to 800 pounds a night, but right now, there are very few people shrimping, and those that are, are catching nothing or maybe 200 pounds per night. You can't even pay your expenses on 200 pounds per night."

"We think they opened shrimp season prematurely," Miller said. "How can we put our product back on the market when everybody in America knows what happened down here? I have seen so many dead animals in the last few months I can't even keep count."

On Thursday, several commercial shrimpers, including Miller and Stewart, held a press conference at the Biloxi Marina. Other fishermen there were not fishing because they feared making people sick with seafood they might catch.

"I don't want people to get sick," Danny Ross, a commercial fisherman from Biloxi told IPS, "We want the government and BP to have transparency with the Corexit dispersants."

Ross said he has watched horseshoe crabs trying to crawl out of the water, and other marine life like stingrays and flounder trying to escape the water as well. He believes this is because the water is hypoxic due to the toxicity of the toxic dispersants, of which BP admits to using at least 1.9 million gallons.

"I will not wet a net and catch shrimp until I know it's safe to do so," Ross added. "I have no way of life now. I can't shrimp and others are calling the shots. For the next 20 years, what am I supposed to do? Because that's how long it's going to take for our waters to be safe again."

David Wallis, another fisherman from Biloxi, attended the press conference.

"We don't feel our seafood is safe, and we demand more testing be done," Wallis told IPS. "I've seen crabs crawling out of the water in the middle of the day. This is going to be affecting us far into the future."

"A lot of fishermen feel as we do. Most of them I talk to don't want the season opened, for our safety as well as others," Wallis added, "Right now there's barely any shrimp out there to catch. We should be overloaded with shrimp right now. That's not normal. I won't eat any seafood that comes out of these waters, because it's not safe."

*This story is part of a series of features on biodiversity by Inter Press Service (IPS), CGIAR/Biodiversity International, International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ), and the United Nations Environment Programme/Convention on Biological Diversity (UNEP/CBD) -- all members of the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (www.complusalliance.org). (END)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Coast Guard says substance found floating in Gulf is algae, not oil

Published: Saturday, October 23, 2010, 7:22 PM Updated: Saturday, October 23, 2010, 8:15 PM
A Coast Guard official said Saturday the orange substance floating in miles-wide areas of West Bay on the Mississippi River delta appears to be algae, not oil as reported Saturday morning by The Times-Picayune.

Oil Slick in Gulf of MexicoEnlargeMATTHEW HINTON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE Oil was spotted in West Bay just west of the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River, seen at top left, by the Gulf of Mexico Friday October 22, 2010.Oil Slick in West Bay gallery (9 photos)
  • Oil Slick in Gulf of Mexico
  • Oil Slick in Gulf of Mexico
  • Oil Slick in Gulf of Mexico
  • Oil Slick in Gulf of Mexico
  • Oil Slick in Gulf of Mexico
Lt. Cmdr. Chris O'Neil said a Coast Guard pollution investigator has collected samples near the mouth of Tiger Pass and, while those samples need to be tested in a lab, "based on his observation and what he sees in the sample jars, he believes that to be an algal bloom."

LSU researchers said such large blooms are not unusual along the Louisiana coast from spring through fall if the nutrient-rich water flowing into the Gulf from the Mississippi River becomes warm enough.Last August large red algae blooms were confirmed on the Mississippi River delta as well as in Breton and Chandeleur sounds.

However, boat captains working in the BP oil spill response team who first reported the sightings as oil said Saturday they were not convinced by the Coast Guard's initial assessment.

"I've never seen algae that looked orange, that was sticky, smelled like oil and that stuck to the boat and had to be cleaned off with solvent," said one captain, who like the others wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing their BP contracts. "I'll wait for the lab reports. In fact, we're also sending some samples off."

Boat captains had said Friday they had become frustrated by a lack of response from the Coast Guard after a week of reporting the sightings.

A Coast Guard spokesman said Friday that his office knew nothing about reports of large areas of weathered oil surfacing in the Gulf. He said the only report from the area of West Bay was "a 10-by-10 area of foam and oil called into the Houma office by a shrimper."

But O'Neil said Saturday that the Coast Guard had actually been investigating the claims since Wednesday.

He said the New Orleans Sector of the Coast Guard had conducted a helicopter overflight of the area Wednesday and the pollution investigator on board concluded the substance was an algae bloom. A Coast Guard boat was dispatched to the area to collect samples, he said, but it had to turn back due to rough seas.

O'Neil said that information was not provided to The Times-Picayune on Friday because the Coast Guard spokesman responding to questions was stationed at the Unified Command Office, which is in New Orleans but not in the same building as the New Orleans Sector office.

"The Unified Command doesn't have visibility on each and every pollution report filed in the Gulf of Mexico on each and every activity conducted by each and every sector," he said.

The reports of oil came just three days after the Coast Guard officer in charge of the federal government's response to the BP spill, Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, said research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed little recoverable oil remained in the Gulf.

Fishers and environmental groups have consistently countered such claims with reports of personal sightings of oil floating in the Gulf and washing up on beaches.

Bob Marshall can be reached at bmarshall@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3539.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Noah's Ark

Today's Bible Lesson
The woodpecker might have to go!

Everything I need to know about life, I learned from
Noah's Ark .
One : Don't miss the boat.
Two : Remember that we are all in the same boat..
Three : Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.
Four : Stay fit. When you're 600 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.
Five : Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.
Six : Build your future on high ground.
Seven : For safety's sake, travel in pairs.
Eight : Speed isn't always an advantage. The snails were on board with the cheetahs.
Nine : When you're stressed, float a while.
Ten : Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.
Eleven: No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.

NOW, wasn't that nice? Pass it along and make someone else smile, too

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Dog Sits Waiting...

A dog sits waiting in the cold autumn sun,

Too faithful to leave, too frightened to run,

He's been here for days now with nothing to do,

But sit by the road, waiting for you,

He can't understand why you left him that day,

He thought you and he were stopping to play,

He's sure you'll come back, and that's why he stays,

How long will he suffer? How many more days?

His legs have grown weak, his throat's parched and dry,

He's sick now from hunger and falls, with a sigh,

He lays down his head and closes his eyes,

I wish you could see how a waiting dog dies..

~ by Kathy Flood ~

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Believe...

A Birth Certificate shows that we were born
A Death Certificate shows that we died

Pictures show that we lived!

Have a seat . Relax . . .

And read this slowly.

I Believe...
That just because two people argue,

It doesn't mean they don't love each other.
And just because they don't argue,
It doesn't mean they do love each other.

I Believe...

That we don't have to change friends if
We understand that friends change.

I Believe....
That no matter how good a friend is,
They're going to hurt you every once in a while
And you must forgive them for that.

I Believe...
That true friendship continues to grow,
Even over the longest distance.

Same goes for true love.

I Believe...
That you can do something in an instant
That will give you heartache for life.

I Believe....
That it's taking me a long time
To become the person I want to be.

I Believe...
That you should always leave loved ones with
Loving words. It may be the last time you see them.

I Believe....
That you can keep going long after you think you can't.

I Believe....
That we are responsible for what
We do, no matter how we feel.

I Believe...
That either you control your attitude or it controls you.

I Believe...
That heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs
To be done, regardless of the consequences.

I Believe....
That my best friend and I can do anything or nothing and have the best time

I Believe....
That sometimes the people you expect to kick you when you're down
Will be the ones to help you get back up

I Believe...
That sometimes when I'm angry
I have the right to be angry,
But that doesn't give me the right to be cruel.

I Believe....
That maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had
And what you've learned from them and less to do with how many
Birthdays you've celebrated.

I Believe....
That it isn't always enough,
To be forgiven by others.

Sometimes, you have to learn to forgive yourself.

I Believe...
That no matter how bad your heart is broken

The world doesn't stop for your grief..

I Believe....
That our background and circumstances
May have influenced who we are,
But, we are responsible for who we become.

I Believe...
That you shouldn't be so eager to find
Out a secret. It could change your life Forever.

I Believe.....
Two people can look at the exact same
Thing and see something totally different.

I Believe....
That your life can be changed in a matter of
Hours by people who don't even know you.

I Believe....
That even when you think you have no more to give,
When a friend cries out to you -
You will find the strength to help.

I Believe...
That credentials on the wall
Do not make you a decent human being.


I Believe...
That the people you care about most in life
Are taken from you too soon.

I Believe...
That you should send this to
All of the people that you believe in, I just did.


'The happiest of people don't necessarily
Have the best of everything;
They just make the most of everything they have.