Thaddeus Pellegrin is a veteran Louisiana fisherman who retired before the BP oil disaster sent waves of oil flooding into the fragile marshes of the bayous and onto Gulf coast beaches. He considers himself lucky to be one of the few individuals to have lived life on his own terms, fishing these fertile waters and providing food for his family and community.
"How many people can leave their house and in five minutes be fishing, then in 15 minutes caught a couple fish and bring them back home and clean them up?" Pellegrin asks.
But Pellegrin knows his way of life may no longer be possible for future generations. In a powerful conversation with his two teenage grandchildren, Avery and Jacob Theriot, the veteran shrimper worries that the record underwater oil blowout could completely alter life in the bayou.
Listen to this touching conversation between an old man of the sea and his grandchildren in the video slideshow below, the latest installment in a partnership between StoryCorps, NRDC and Bridge the Gulf – “Stories from the Gulf: Living with the BP oil disaster.”
Mr. Pellegrin’s grandchildren represent a generation that is unlikely to follow the same fishing traditions passed down by their elders. As the marshes disappear, they will not know the same waters or know the same beauty and vastness of the bayou.
"My gosh, with that amount of oil, it changes everything. It has the ability to affect everything for God knows how long."
Like Pellegrin, many fishermen in the Gulf these days have been asking themselves just how long that will be. While state and federal government officials continue to insist the seafood is safe, many fishermen believe things are not normal and that their lives will never be the same.
"I think one of the big thing for the processors right now is that people are not buying the shrimp 'cause of the fear the shrimp is contaminated with oil," he tells his grandchildren.
Over the past 50 years, Pellegrin and other fishermen have watched the oil industry spread its pipelines throughout the marshes from mushrooming production platforms that dot the seascape. He knows the dangers of the oil industry, especially after witnessing the worst oil disaster in US history.
"My hope is that we learn from it, and that we develop a process that if we're going to continue to extract oil from the depths of the Gulf, that we can do it in an environmentally friendly manner and in a safe manner."
Besides the oil, Pellegrin tells his grandchildren the most disturbing thing he's witnessed is the slow, methodical destruction of the marshes, the lifeblood of the Gulf fisheries.
"In my lifetime, which in the scheme of things is just in the blink of an eye, I've seen where people were raising cattle and those places are covered with four and five foot of water right now," Pellegrin says. "I think the thing that bothers me the most that there is a distinct possibility that we will cease to be."
"It's scary you know, not a very comforting thought. This area is who we are, it defines us."
But oil and water will most likely change it forever.
This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.
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