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Strong support between Gulf fishing, oil

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Kai Ryssdal:The impression you might have from some of the reports out of the Gulf Coast is that fishing and oil just don’t get along. That pulling things alive out of the ocean and being able to eat them are directly at odds with pumping hydrocarbons out of the sea floor. Folks down in southern Louisiana, though, say it’s not that simple.

Adriene Hill reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.

Adriene Hill: Venice, in Plaqeumines Parish, is just about as far south as you can get in the state. It’s part of the Gulf that Hurricane Katrina destroyed, and it’s dotted with half-standing homes marked for demolition.

Now, the oil spill is making its own mess — a lot of the fishing here has been shut down. Last year’s catch in the parish brought in $40 million. So, I was guessing the fishermen would be furious with the oil industry.


Morris Hartt: No, you’re wrong, absolutely, yeah.

Morris Hartt’s been running a gas station and convenience store in Venice for more than 30 years. Locals come for Bud Light and cigarettes. Fishing and oil are like sugar in tea down here, he says. They belong together.

Hartt: I mean, fisherman get help from the oil field, the oil field gets help from the fisherman. Guys out there, boat breaks down, they help him out; they out there, their boat breaks down. It might not be legal, but they swap fish for diesel sometimes. You know, stuff like that. You know what I mean? One hand washes the other.

Both industries keep Hartt in business. He guesses 70 percent of his customers have jobs tied to oil. The other 30 percent are here for fishing. That’s it — oil and fish are this town’s business. But after this spill, he still supports drilling — and so did every other person I talked to in southern Louisiana.

Tom Kahoe: If you find someone around that supports the moratorium, ask them where they were born and raised. They’re not born and raised here.

That’s Tom Kahoe. We talked fish over a plate of oysters. He pours concrete for home builders, but spends all his weekends fishing in Venice. He says seeing the oil in the marshes nearly made him cry, it was like his best dog dying — but he too supports drilling. He says it keeps the community going and, it turns out, the rigs form man-made reefs.

Kahoe: They’re the biggest fish magnets you’ve ever seen in your life. No place in the entire Gulf of Mexico has fishing like Louisiana has, and a lot of it has to do with the oil rigs.

Few people I talked to have as much to be conflicted about as Chad Breland. He’s got two businesses: He supplies groceries and cleaning crews to the oil rigs, and, he’s a charter fisherman whose basically been shut down. But he says the fishing industry needs oil.

Chad Breland: No one else lives here. We don’t have a manufacturer. We don’t have a plant. We don’t build cars. This is what we do. This is our way of life, and it’s all we know.

But Breland doesn’t have the slightest qualms about taking money from BP for his lost income. They screwed up, he says. They need to make it right, and government needs to be a better policeman.

Breland: This is going to make BP and the whole oil and gas industry grow up. We’re going to learn from it and we’re going to come out better in the end.

And then, Breland thinks, they should keep on drilling.

In Louisiana, I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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