<
>

End this nightmare

5/15/2010
AP/Eric Gay

Tell me it's just a dream. If not, it's my worst nightmare.

My business, my family and just life as I have known it for years changed abruptly and dramatically, and not for the better.

On April 20, 2010, I heard there was an accident in the Gulf of Mexico, where an oil rig I had fished for countless hours was on fire.

First reports said that although it was serious, all measures had been instituted and the fire was under control. Other reports quickly surfaced with the devastating news that several members of the platform crew were missing and that the fire was not under control.

Executives of British Petroleum reassured the national and local press, as well as government officials, that they were confident the platform was still structurally sound and that chances of a major oil spill were minimal.

A few hours later, the platform was listing more than 10 degrees and from available still and video footage it was quite apparent that the platform was completely engulfed by a fireball.

The intense heat created by the fire weakened the platform, causing it to tilt past 30 degrees and then collapse. It plummeted more than a mile into the Gulf of Mexico, where the remains came to rest and another catastrophe began to emerge.

A catastrophe that I believe will eventually rewrite history, especially for the petroleum industry. The pipe that delivered oil to the platform was severed and the backup "shut off" system failed. We now have an open flow of oil, and a dark, gloomy cloud of oil intended to sustain our normal daily lives has the potential to create havoc for many lives.

BP's announcement: "1,000 barrels a day of oil is what we are experiencing from the leak and we are hoping to cap this well off as soon as possible." BP soon admitted it was closer to 5,000 barrels a day, and its ASAP for capping the well and stopping the leak remains unknown.

It did not take long for commercial and recreational fishing to be halted from the east side of Southwest Pass, eastward along the coast and all inshore waterways through Plaquemines Parish and all the way across and through St. Bernard Parish.

It left virtually only Lake Borgne open to fishing. Let's put these closures into perspective: The captains who work with me, along with several other guides and numerous commercial fishermen, make their living in these waters, as do the supporting businesses, like marinas, tackle shops and boat dealers.

Still open was the west side of Plaquemines Parish … but that only lasted a couple of days.

And the next closure sucked the air out of my lungs: total closure from the Empire Canal, south and east, all waters from the Mississippi River levees outward.

All the guides are shut down, unable to open for business, unable to provide an income for our families.

It was just five years ago that my business and home were destroyed by the monster named Hurricane Katrina. Professional fishing has been my livelihood, my business, my life for many years. It was a tough decision to rebuild our lodge and charter business, but with the support of my family, friends and customers we tackled what I thought then was the most difficult task of my life.

The saying "blood, sweat and tears" was clearly understood and experienced by my family as we clawed, scratched, sawed, hammered and rebuilt our lives.

A discussion with my wife just a couple of months ago shed a light on our future. We were not out of the woods from the devastating loss that Katrina dealt us, but we finally could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Last year was a good one, and 2010 looked very promising. Even though it was a cold, miserable winter, I guided about 30 percent more than last winter. I was booked solid through April, May and June, July was looking strong, August was about 50 percent booked and the rest of the year was shaping up nicely.

Yes, 2010 was going to be good … or at least I thought.

Now a terrible black cloud -- this time not from above -- lurks in the waters of the Gulf. It is slapping shorelines along southeast Louisiana, threatening to cover the estuaries and delta of this region, causing what could be catastrophic damage.

We have no idea exactly what is going to happen.

Is the No. 1 estuary in the United States going to be damaged to the extent that it will take years to rebound?

Will the top port for shrimp, crabs, oysters and other seafood -- a port that supplies 30 percent of the commercial seafood to this country -- be devastated?

Those questions cannot be answered right now, and maybe not for some time. I do know the seafood is still healthy and the fish are still here, but nothing in my area is allowed to be harvested. I understand the reasons for closure, but that certainly does not soften the financial blow I am experiencing.

With one son in college, one graduating from high school next week with plans of going to pharmaceutical school, seven more years on the mortgage on my house, a lodge to finish paying for, vehicle notes, health insurance, business insurance and boat insurance, there are some bills to pay.

I've built a little network with 25 years of hard marketing, entertaining most every major print media in the country, appearing on numerous national fishing television shows and hosting my own fishing show before Katrina.

It was all to promote and educate about the fabulous fishing that exists in south Louisiana, especially a sleepy little community called Venice, which exists solely on commercial and recreational fishing and the petroleum industry.

Now all that supports this community is in potential peril.

It's been 23 days now, the oil well has not been capped and hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spew into the Gulf daily. My business is shut down and all trips have been canceled throughout June. I also have many customers who want to cancel their fall trips.

Most importantly, my phone does not ring for fishing trips, and e-mails inquiring about trips have virtually evaporated. I know it is not Armageddon, but from where I sit, it is an extremely stressful time. What is going to happen?

I do know one thing for certain: We have the best seafood, the best fishing and some of the best waterfowling this country has to offer.

God willing, when this is all over, I will be ready to pick up where I began 29 years ago, promoting, fishing and enjoying the best office any man could have.

By some miracle, I hope I can wake up from this nightmare and return to my dream.