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Fishermen of a Different Kind Take Their Gulf Fight to Congress

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Kindra Arnesen and Ryan Lambert live only a few miles from each other deep in the bayou of Plaquemines Parish, LA. They share the same love of the marsh, the sea and the coastal wilderness that make this area an irreplaceable treasure of the south.

But this week they are now  both in Washington talking to members of Congress about the need for comprehensive legislation to protect against future disasters and make sure money is provided to restore the damaged Gulf coast.

Kindra and Ryan are neighbors but live worlds apart. Kindra and her husband are commercial fishermen, who shrimp and fish all year long to sell their catches to the market, providing some of the finest seafood on the market. Ryan is a fishing and hunting guide, one of the Louisiana's most successful. Together they share a love for the bayou they fear has been irreparably damaged by the oily assault, a land that is rapidly washing away due to human intrusion.

Kindra has lived her whole life down in the bayou, shucking oysters since she was a teenager. Now she’s proud to be a fisherman’s wife with two beautiful children. She wouldn’t live anywhere else. But her family’s life got turned upside down the day the BP well exploded a year ago, and it’s never been the same since.

“I decided then and there I would do something to protect my family and my community,” she says. “I wasn’t going to look into the baby blue eyes of my kids and tell them mommy didn’t do everything to protect them.”

Watch a video of Kindra Arnesen and her family from NRDC's Gulf oil disaster documentary "Stories from the Gulf," presented by Robert Redford, that airs on April 23 on Discovery Channel's Planet Green.

Kindra and her neighbors have suffered greatly over the past year. She watched fishermen who worked on the oil spill cleanup and got sick from the toxic fumes of the oil and chemical dispersants, including her husband, she says. Now she worries their livelihoods continue to be threatened by dispersed oil in the water that still washes in as tar balls and underwater oil mats just off our shores.

Kindra says her lawmakers have done nothing to protect her family since the country’s greatest oil disaster in our nation's history. She wants Congress to enact the recommendations of the Presidential oil spill commission, create an independent offshore safety authority to increase the role of science in to determine which areas we need to protect from drilling, step up safety tests of chemical dispersants that were poured in unprecedented amounts into the Gulf, and improve our oil spill response plans which are painfully inadequate.

She also says Congress needs to make sure the industry is held accountable for future oil spills by raising the liability cap from just $75 million in damages resulting from an oil spill. That’s less than 1% of BP’s $14 billion profit in 2009.

“We need Congress to step up to the plate and make sure there are better safety regulations and that oil companies pay for any messes they make in the future. We’re the ones who feed the world, and Americans need to make sure we will be here to keep feeding them in the future.”

Ryan Lambert also shares Kindra's concerns about the future. As vice president of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association, he’s worked closely with the oil industry and other fishing interests in the state to build a successful fishing and hunting guide business. But Ryan's attitude changed after the BP well blew. Here’s what he told Bob Marshall of the Times Picayune for an article that ran last Sunday:

 

"The fishing industry has always lived side-by-side with the oil industry down here in Plaquemines Parish, and they've always told us that if anything happened, they would take care of the problem -- they would repair the damages and they would make us whole -- and I believed them," said Lambert, whose Cajun Fishing Adventures Lodge is one of the state's largest.

"Well, they lied. About everything. They didn't take care of the problem, and they're not taking care of us. Guys in my business weren't made whole. A lot of them are starving. And now that the national media is gone, BP couldn't care less.

"I'm sick of it, and I'm telling the whole country about it -- on national TV, in magazines and in front of Congress."

Ryan is talking to Congress about making sure future fines from BP—likely in the billions of dollars—are poured back into Gulf restoration projects to rebuild the thousands of acres of land destroyed by man-made levies and oil pipeline canals in past decades. “We need to make sure we have the money to finish these projects or there will be nothing left. We don’t have much time. It will be gone—along with our lifestyle—within a generation if we don’t act fast. There isn’t anything more important down here than that. The whole Gulf depends on us to get this right.”

Watch a video of fishing and hunting guide Ryan Lambert from NRDC's Gulf oil disaster documentary "Stories from the Gulf," presented by Robert Redford, that airs on April 23 on Discovery Channel's Planet Green.

 

 

Ryan and Kindra are among many Gulf residents who feel the country has no clue about what’s really going on along the coast. They face tens of millions of dollars worth of ad campaigns funded by BP and local governments putting a pretty face on the oil disaster. But they say they have no choice but to fight for their land and their future.

They hope Congress gets their message.

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