Tonight as I was speaking with the shrimpers I’ve gotten to know this week, I could tell they were leery about going out to fight the oil spill tomorrow. Most of them have heard about the magnitude of the spill and expect to be out to sea for days at a time armed with booms and a series of bags and absorbent materials. Their deckhands will be the ones in the hazmat suits with the respirators handling the oil-soaked materials, and we’ve heard that BP has provided that equipment, but the captains running the boats aren’t as protected.
With my colleague, Dr. Gina Solomon, we dropped by and saw Kip and Waylon and gave them respirators Gina had picked up at Lowe’s on her way to Venice. We handed out all of the respirators we had, Gina went over how to use them and made sure they properly fit. The unfortunate thing is that we only had eight respirators to give out and there are hundreds of men taking their boats to sea starting Sunday at noon.
Some of the men we talked to were concerned about how their work with the booms and absorbent materials would actually make a difference given at least 210,000 gallons of oil continues to spew out of the Deepwater Horizon daily. How are these men with their shrimping boats expected to make a dent in fighting a spill of this magnitude? One shrimper asked somewhat rhetorically, “how many gallons could we possibly absorb with the booms if the oil continues to gush at its current rate?”
I don’t know the answer to that, but I know the community feels they have to do something, they have to stay mobilized, they have to stay working and trying to earn a living and signing a contract with BP to put their boats in the middle of an oil spill and try to contain the damage is what many see is their best option, even if it means tearing up their boats in the process.
Many of the shrimpers heading out Sunday afternoon won’t be back to port for several days, some will stay out as long as they can stand it, in hopes that they can get as much of the oily gunk out of the sea as possible and away from harming their precious shrimping grounds. This is the season they’d be out on the sea every day, hauling in catches sometimes totaling $17,000. The daily paycheck from BP of $1,500 isn’t anything to scoff at and most seem to welcome the payment, but it certainly won’t amount to what they could make in a good season. Unfortunately for the Gulf, the next good season could be years if not decades away.
This post originally appeared on NRDC"s Switchboard blog.