Photos by Melanie Buford
In the towns of Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana, fishing is life. If you don’t fish, then you provide the bait. If you don’t sell bait, then you clean, grade and pack shipments. The entire local economy is based on shrimping, crabbing and oysters, from the hotels to repair shops to the restaurants. Even the culture reflects the industry — it’s not surprising that children are seen playing in small row boats in their family’s driveways.
The fishing communities in this area have deep roots and many men come from a long line of boat captains. They carry on the family business and it’s not uncommon to find three or even four generations out on one boat. They are paid per catch and during the season, the catches can be plentiful. If a boat doesn’t go out, then no money is made. Shut down the waters and the economy collapses.
When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, a waiting game began in this pristine and somewhat protected area. Oil has yet to touch the shores of Saint Bernard Parish, but the panic has already set in. As the oil draws closer, local crab fishermen began to desperately catch blue crab in order to earn what money they can. Blue crab is currently the only industry open after shrimp and oyster fishing closed a month ago. Yet, once the oil arrives, their income, their heritage, and the only way of life they know will be gone forever.
Some fishermen, like Kimmie Serigne, have been forced to supplement their income by working for BP doing clean-up and laying out booms. When shrimping was finally shut down, Serigne had to provide food for his family of four. His wife served a meal of fried shrimp that was caught in the local bayou, originally intended as bait.
Shrimp boat captain Minh Vo is now the stay-at-home parent, while his wife works long hours in a nail salon. Exhausted, she returns home to find her husband preparing the evening meal and caring for their children. Though Minh now has the opportunity to spend time with his children — something he never had the chance to do while fishing — the stress in their home is obvious. Minh and his wife argue daily about where their money and next meal will come from. Recently, after waiting for over four hours for financial support, Minh had to find a way to carefully spend the $100 grocery check provided by Catholic Charities.
It’s a race against time, waiting for oil to land in Saint Bernard Parish.
Melanie Burford’s web site: http://melanieburford.com/