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Locals hurt by battered Gulf industries

Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: As oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico, families along the coastline are reevaluating all of their assumptions about their financial lives. The Gulf provides many of them with two big economic opportunities: oil and fish. And right now, the futures of both are in question.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Adriene Hill reports.


Adriene Hill: It's Sunday morning at the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church. And the choir is keeping busy. The pastor had an earlier service in another town and is stuck in traffic. So they keep on circling through hymns till he gets here. When Pastor Theodore Turner does arrive he performs three baptisms, everyone prays thanking God and asking for his help getting through this oil spill.

Pastor Theodore Turner: As you probably can tell this isn't a very affluent neighborhood. There's no millionaires or billionaires or anything like that here. So, we make it from day to day.

This is a part of Louisiana that's been through a lot. Hurricane Katrina hit it hard. Some people still live in trailers. There's no grocery store nearby anymore.

Turner: This is a fishing community in the middle of the oil field. And most persons primarily make their living by those two industries.

There's no better example than Janice and Rondey Andry, members of the Mt. Olive congregation. They've been married a long time.

Janice Andry: Forty.

Rondey Andry: Forty-two years.

She does paperwork for an oil company. He's a commercial shrimper.

Rondey: Fourteen, 16 hour days. When you're self-employed like that in that line of work it takes more than eight to 10 hours. So when I'm on that water it's a long day.

But Rondey isn't shrimping now. Most of the areas he fishes are closed. Together, they typically make about $50,000 a year and right now they're getting by OK. Rondey got a check from BP, and BP is paying him to use his boat on clean up.

Rondey: After this is all over, the clean up is all over, what you going to do? Three to five, maybe 10 years, you still can't shrimp. What you going to do?

Rondey's 61. He says he's too old to find other work. He'd like to retire but...

Rondey: I can't. Due to Katrina and now this oil spill, there ain't no way I can retire. If I want to survive I've got to keep working until I can't work no more.

From the outside, it seems surprising that fishermen wouldn't resent the oil industry, especially now that oil has pretty much destroyed the fishing. But Janice and Rondey say they only have one type of fight about their work: She doesn't like that he puts in such long days. There's no anger about the oil spill -- no conflict.

Janice: The Gulf has more than one way for you to make a living, you can be in the oil industry in the Gulf or you can be in the fishing, shrimping -- you know, charter fishing industry in the Gulf -- the Gulf is not limited to just one vocation or occupation.

Rondey: Right.

Like a good marriage, the two industries depend on each other. The fisherman buy the diesel to power their boats, the rigs make reefs for fish. And the oil industry people buy seafood, they take charter fishing trips. Janice and Rondey both believe we have to keep drilling and now that he's out of shrimping, Janice says they're depending on it. She wants President Obama to deal with BP but not punish the whole industry.

Janice: If he halts drilling then I can see gasoline going up to an ungodly amount that I can't afford. For two reasons because, first of all, because the shrimping industry, which is part of my livelihood is no longer, so there's no income coming in. And if he halts drilling then I may lose my job.

The Andreys' are religious. They both trust that God will help them through this. But neither of them thinks what's coming will be easy.

In Louisiana, I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace Money.

About the author

Adriene Hill is a senior multimedia reporter for the Marketplace sustainability desk, with a focus on consumer issues and the individual relationship to sustainability and the environment.
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