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June 11, 2010

A ‘Category 10’ Disaster

Last week I met Cherie Pete, who operates a mom-and-pop style sandwich shop called Maw’s in the marshy lowlands of Boothville, LA – about two hours south of New Orleans.

Normally recreational fishermen stop by her shop to fuel up before deep-sea fishing trips in the Gulf. But with fishing restricted in most federal waters off the coast of southern Louisiana, Pete’s clientele base has disappeared.

“Normally we’d be swamped at this time,” she told me. Instead, the shopfront was nearly empty with only a few customers trickling by to purchase a cool drink in the 100-degree heat (including Brian Williams of NBC News who made a stopover with his camera crew.)

Cherie’s husband is a lifelong shrimper and boat builder. Forced out of work by the oil spill, he has signed on as a contractor with LA Wildlife and Fisheries to monitor and rescue oiled birds, which are delivered to the Fort Jackson Bird Rescue Centre (coincidentally directed by Oceana’s Ocean Hero Jay Holcomb.)

For now, Cherie is grateful that her husband has a form of work, but she worries about the long-term. 

“Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 storm,” she told me. “Well this spill is a Category 10, maybe worse.”

The sense of frustration and desperation in her voice was apparent. The communities along this narrow strip of land at the mouth of the Mississippi River are hardy and self-sufficient. 

After Hurricane Katrina pounded the area with a 20-ft storm surge and 120 mph winds in 2005, the community banded together and rebuilt mostly from scratch.

Now, these families are crippled by a sense of powerlessness – they don’t know how long the spill will last or how it will affect the future of their fisheries. And there’s little they can do to protect their economic and cultural lifeblood.

Here’s Cherie:

VID00001 from Oceana on Vimeo.

Emily Peterson is a Louisiana native and Foundations Associate at Oceana.