Fishermen face health risks from Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Clint Guidry is a third generation Louisiana shrimper and fisherman, a Vietnam vet and he is angry. The enormous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has virtually shut down the main industry – commercial fishing – in his southern Louisiana town of Lafitte. The early summer shrimp season has opened but many of important areas where shrimp are harvested have been closed to fishermen.

Clint Guidry is a third generation Louisiana shrimper and fisherman, a Vietnam vet and he is angry. The enormous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has virtually shut down the main industry – commercial fishing – in his southern Louisiana town of Lafitte. The early summer shrimp season has opened but many of important areas where shrimp are harvested have been closed to fishermen.

Clint Guidry, of the Louisiana Shrimp Associations, fears what the consequences of the oil spill in the gulf will mean to members of his association.

But, that’s not all that has made him angry. BP offered local fishermen jobs to clean up the mess caused by the spill … but under conditions that, Guidry feels, have put their health and possibly, their lives, at risk.

“They’re killing the shrimpers. They’ve got people out there working without the proper equipment in dangerous conditions,” said Guidry. “Seven of my people have been admitted to the hospital with symptoms of chemical poisoning.”

Guidry knows what he is talking about from experience. Before his life fishing the waters of the Gulf, he worked in oil refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, under hazardous conditions. Guidry understands the risks of exposure to crude oil and oil-related chemicals.

More importantly, he knows the equipment required to protect workers’ safety and health from the dangers of hazardous environments such as the areas where dispersant is sprayed to contain oil on the water’s surface near Bayou Barataria, which surrounds Lafitte.

Family photo of Clint aboard his fishing boat the “Uncle Pops” with one of the largest bluefin tuna he landed. The fish was caught in the waters of the present day leaking BP gulf well.

With the oil creeping dangerously close to Lafitte – about seven miles out, at last report – Guidry and his colleagues from the Louisiana Shrimp Association mobilized shrimp fishermen to participate in BP’s Vessel of Opportunities program. The association represents 600 members – commercial fishermen across southern Louisiana – and many who have been put out of business by the oil spill because prime shrimp areas have been closed.

Guidry soon learned from colleagues, working on the ‘Burn Team’ in the thickest areas where crude oil emerged from the leak to the surface, that they were not given any respiratory protection or proper training. When the shrimpers asked for protection, he says they were told by BP that no respiratory protection were required.

“When the shrimpers purchased their own masks, they were ordered to remove them or be removed from the job,” Guidry said. “They need these jobs to pay their bills and feed their families. Normally, they would be fishing at this time, but many areas are closed due to the spill.”

Guidry wants to hold BP responsible and accountable for the dangers that shrimpers and fishermen are subjected to.

“It’s not like these guys want to be out there doing this, they would rather be out on the water fishing. They need to pay the bills so right now … and, they don’t have much of a choice.”