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In the bayou, fish and oil have mixed for decades
Wilbert Collins, still harvesting oysters at 72, said there have been plenty of smaller spills that no one made a fuss over. He said he knows very well what it's like to eat an oyster that's been hit with an oil spill.
"You just taste the oil. It stays in there a couple of weeks," he said at the emergency claim center. The word from inside was that BP would give $2,500 per fisherman as an advance on any future claim. Just show some paperwork, some trip tickets, something to establish one's credentials as a fisherman.
What no one can provide, though, is any peace of mind right now. The oil this week has started to hit the grass in the outer marshlands. Meanwhile, there is the great unknown of the chemical dispersants that have been used to break up the oil.
"The medicine they're spraying on there, we don't know how bad it is," Collins said.
Shrimper Thomas Barrios chimed in: "Is our kids going to get cancer and all that? Is it going to make people sick?"
Martin Folse, owner of an independent TV station called HTV, in Houma, has toured the spill by helicopter and shown long stretches of unedited footage revealing the oil already touching some of the islands west of the Mississippi. As grave as the situation is, though, he casts no blame.
"I can't sit here and criticize oil because I live in an area that oil has built. But seafood has built it, too. It's two very powerful industries that has been affected at one time," Folse said. "It's like watching two brothers fight. You can't pick a side. You gotta work with both sides."
At an outdoor bait stand on the road along the bayou, Randy Borne Jr., 30, had been looking forward to making a little money in his second year in business. But the charter boat captains have had so many cancellations because the authorities have closed the federal waters to fishing. That means the captains aren't buying his bait. Life is tough at the bottom of the monetary food chain.
He was getting ready to go to the new claim center, but ran into a snag: No paperwork.
"The W-2 form, I sent it off for my food stamps," his wife, Casey, 22, told him.
"You sent off a copy," he said, hoping.
"No," she said.