Two days after [William] Walker’s announcement [that all was well] and in response to claims from state and federal officials that Gulf Coast waters are safe and clean, fishermen took their own samples from the waters off of Pass Christian in Mississippi.
The samples were taken in water that is now open for shrimping, as well as from waters directly over Mississippi’s oyster bed, that will likely open in September for fishing.
Commercial fisherman James “Catfish” Miller, took fishermen Danny Ross Jr. and Mark Stewart, along with scientist Dr. Ed Cake of Gulf Environmental Associates and others out and they found the fishing grounds to be contaminated with oil and dispersants.
On August 13, Truthout visited Pass Christian Harbor in Mississippi. Oil sheen was present, the vapors of which could be smelled, causing our eyes to burn. Many ropes that tied boats to the dock were oiled and much of the water covered with oil sheen.
A resident, who has a yacht in the harbor, spoke with Truthout on condition of anonymity due to fears of reprisal from BP. “Last week we were sitting on our boat and you could smell the chemicals,” he explained. “It smelt like death. It was like mosquito spray, but ten times stronger. The next day I was hoarse and my lungs felt like I’d been in a smoky bar the night before.”
***”BP has bought off all our government officials, and shut them up. You can’t say the oil is gone, it’s right here! Them saying it’s not here is a bunch of bull****.”
Truthout spoke with another man, who was recently laid off from the VOO [vessels of opportunity] program. He also spoke on condition of anonymity. “Just the other day one of the Carolina Skiffs passed us spraying something,” he said. “We went west instead of east as we turned and a group of Carolina Skiffs was spraying something over the water.”
A Carolina Skiff is a type of boat, usually between 13′ and 30′ long, very versatile and can function well in shallow or deep waters. They are known for having a large payload capacity and a lot of interior space.
Alarmed by what he saw, the former VOO worker called the Coast Guard to report what he believed was a private contractor company spraying dispersants. “We were later told by the Coast Guard they’d investigated the incident and told us what we saw were vacuum boats sucking oil, and they were rinsing their tanks,” he said. “But we know this is a lie and that BP is using these out of state contractors to come in and spray the dispersant at night and they are using planes to drop it as well.”
He worked in the VOO program looking for oil. When his team would find oil, upon reporting it, they would consistently be sent away without explanation or the opportunity to clean it. “They made us abort these missions,” he said. “Two days ago I put out boom in a bunch of oil for five minutes, they told me to abort the mission, so I pulled up boom soaked in oil. What the hell are we doing out there if they won’t let us work to clean up the oil?”
He told Truthout that as his and other VOO teams would be going out to work on the water in the morning, they would pass the out-of-state contractors in Carolina Skiffs coming in from what he believed to be a covert spraying of the oil with dispersant in order to sink it. He believes this was done to deliberately prevent the VOO teams from finding and collecting oil. By doing so, BP’s liability would be lessened since the oil giant will be fined for the amount of oil collected.
***”I can take anybody in here out and show them oil, every single day,” David White, a local fishing charter captain responded. “I was in the VOO program, driving around calling in oil, telling them where it is and nobody ever came. I never saw any skimmers there and I’m talking about some serious oil. I can show you tar balls going across the bottom like tumbleweeds.”
Yerkes provided Truthout with a written statement from Lawrence Byrd, a local boat captain who was a task force leader in the VOO program from June 4 to July 21. On July 27 and 28, Byrd took BP officials, Coast Guard officials and an EPA official on a fact finding mission in search of oil.
“The Coast Guard told us if we could show them the oil, they’d put us back to work,” Yerkes told Truthout, “So Byrd took him, and other officials out on his boat and showed them the oil.”
Byrd’s statement contains many instances of the group encountering oil on the trips:
“Within 30 minutes in the Rocky Bayou and Boggy Bayou we found 4 different football field sized areas of oily sheen on the water … We moved east from there in search of weathered oil, just past Mid Bay bridge we found a 2 acre oil slick with a water bottle full of crude oil. At this time the Coast Guard Lt. had seen enough to warrant a 2nd trip with BP officials and EPA.”
The next day, July 28, Byrd wrote:
“On board were BP officials, a Parson official, 2 Coast Guard Lts and EPA. First stop Crab Island Destin where we found tar balls, dead fish and plenty of dead sargasm grass. All officials seemed very concerned about all of our findings.”
There is a clear pattern that VOO workers in all four states are consistently reporting:
* VOO workers identify the oil.
* They are then sent elsewhere by someone higher up the chain of command.
* Dispersants are later applied by out-of-state contractors in Carolina Skiffs (usually at night), or aircraft are used, in order to sink the oil.
* The oil “appears” gone and, therefore, no additional action is taken.
“There are surfers coming in with oil on them,” Yerkes continued, “There are divers telling us it’s on the bottom. We have VOO workers coming in after finding oil three inches thick atop the water as of last week and they go back out there and it’s gone.”
Project Gulf Impact filmed local fishermen saying much the same thing:
“Fishermen do not want to lose our credibility or deliver contaminated seafood to market and make people sick.” – Kathy Birren
“While President Obama and state officials claim that the Gulf is ‘open for business,’ these fishermen say the spraying of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico is ongoing and they’re concerned that seafood pulled from impacted waters is unsafe for eating.”
“The tissue testing of this seafood is inadequate and testing for the toxic dispersants is non-existent.” – Tracy Kuhns, Louisiana Bayoukeeper
“I think it is crucial for the public to be made aware of the concerns of the commercial fishermen. And if a commercial fisherman who makes his living off of those products doesn’t want to deliver them to the public, the public needs to know why.” – Chris Bryant, Commercial Fisherman.
Is the Sierra Club right? Are still-oiled fishing areas being reopened solely to limit BP’s liability?
Are fishing areas instead being reopened to try to save the Gulf fishing industry (even though local fishermen and shrimpers would rather have dangerous areas remain closed so that Gulf seafood’s reputation isn’t permanently destroyed)?
Or is it just part of the same old attempt to cover up the severity of the crisis?