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June 4, 2014

Portraits from the Gulf: George Barisich

April 20 marked the four-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the process of filming a short film about the aftermath of the spill, “Drill, Spill, Repeat?” Oceana staff met George Barisich, a commercial fisherman in Louisiana. Oceana staff sat down with Barisich to discuss his struggle to regain his heath and make a living from the ocean in the wake of the oil spill. This is the second story in a three-part blog series that highlights the many faces of the Gulf’s recovery. Stay tuned for more.

[Barisich’s story has been edited for length.]

On life after the spill…

Unfortunately, things for the commercial fisherman in southeast Louisiana are not as good as those BP commercials would have you believe. My shrimp production is still down between 40 to 60 percent in my area.

[BP] promised to make things right, you got it make it right for where I live and where I work. They are telling me I can leave this area and go 180 miles away and go catch shrimp.

I’ve been making a living in Lake Borne for 29 years running a boat. I can’t do it anymore. My oyster production is down at least 93 percent. In the last four years, I might have sold about 1,500 sacks. In four years. I used to sell that each week, in the good times, ya know.

On his ability to retire…

What’s frustrating is that I’m at the close to the end of my career — I’m almost 60 years old. And I’ve made accommodations where I could ease on in every time and work a little bit. Now I have to work triple time just to make a living. And I’m scratching it.

On the hidden economic impacts…

$240 million worth of BP commercials has a lot of people believing that we’re okay. We’re not.

I’ve got two boats that are out there on the bayou, and I used to hire four to six people year round. Now, I have one part-time employee. So look at what I don’t burn in fuel, what I don’t buy in groceries — which I did for generations. Look at the economic impact. I don’t think that was considered in this supposedly good settlement that we got.

On the future…

Until we get our oyster population back, which filters the waters, we’re not going to have a good environment. As commercial fishermen, we have highs and lows of economics, highs and lows of weather, hurricanes, you know. But this man-made disaster is just lingering. We need people to understand that we’re still in trouble.

Want to know more about how the Gulf is doing four years after the BP oil disaster, from those still dealing with its damage? Take a look at Oceana’s latest documentary, “Drill, Spill, Repeat?”, to learn more, and click here to host or find a viewing party near you. 

You can also help us stop the drill by keeping oil surveying tests out of the Atlantic.