The effects of the BP oil spill on the Pointe-au-Chien Indian tribe’s economy has been devastating. The Louisiana tribe gets a large portion of their income from the summer fishing season, which was lost to oil and a fearful market this year.
“If you take a percentage of the tribe, then maybe 25 percent of the tribe, their sole income is this time of the year,” said the tribe’s chief, Chuckie Verdin, 53.
“This year’s fishing is just about over. We only got about another month. Then it’ll be just a long way through the winter months,” Verdin said.
The small, French-speaking tribe of roughly 682 people lives along the Bayou Pointe-au-Chien in southern Louisiana. Although they have a history of hunting and agriculture, today their economy relies primarily on fishing—a change they attribute in part to the land’s devastation by oil companies, according to their website.
Fishing bans put into place following the oil spill put much of the tribe out of work. Some went to work for BP. Others filed for reimbursement, but even that has proven difficult lately, since “people who were not in the fishing business came in and wanted to make claims, and BP officials saw that and started getting stricter,” Verdin said.
No response was received from BP as of press deadline.
Oil can still be seen on the shores in the area. It washes in, kills the grass, and as the soil erodes it washes back out again to continue the cycle. “The fishing has been open but people are scared to buy seafood because they’re scared of what might be in the water,” said Verdin.
Contamination tests on local shellfish and soil from the local waters showed high levels of toxins. Verdin investigated the issue with Lower Mississippi River Keeper Paul Orr, from the Water Keeper Alliance, the organization that found the infamous “Dead Bird Island,” a video that can be seen on YouTube where dead and dying birds litter the ground.
In one particular location—an oyster bed that Verdin led the team to—oil could not be seen or smelled, but tests showed high levels of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) carcinogenic contaminants that carry the fingerprint of the BP oil spill.
Wilma Subra, an award-winning chemist who conducted the tests, told The Epoch Times in an earlier interview that, “We did find it in large quantities in the soil sediment, as well as in vegetation and organisms—oysters and some in the crabs.”
She added that other contaminants were also found, and “we’re not talking parts-per-million or parts-per-billion. … It was there in substantial concentrations.”
For the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe as a whole, close to 75 percent of their income is reliant on fishing. Some fishing bans were lifted, but many people don’t want to buy Louisiana seafood. “Some of those processors, especially some of those processors from out of state, they don’t even want those fish from over here,” Verdin said. “The catch has been good, but now you just can hardly sell it.”
“Especially for the oyster business, it has not come back. They opened up the oysters, but nobody want to buy no oysters at all,” he said.
Even if fishermen can sell their catch, the lowered demand has lowered what people are willing to pay. Verdin noted that many members of the tribe don’t bother to fish because the cost of fuel and the expense of going out rival the payment they’ll receive once they get back.
Although the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe was officially recognized by the state of Louisiana in 2004, they are not recognized by the federal government. A 2008 Department of the Interior press release notes that the tribe “has never had a treaty or other formal relationship with the federal government.”
The tribe’s website says that being federally recognized, “would allow for more direct assistance to the tribe in cleanup and assessment measures,” amid the current disaster.
For many members of the tribe, the current situation is bearable, but the main concern is how the oil spill will affect next year’s catch. “There’s a lot of talk about that,” said Russell Dardar, 42.
Dardar is a crab and oyster fisherman, but hasn’t sold a catch since the beginning of July. His wife is working two jobs to help support their two children.
Fishing wasn’t just the bulk of the tribes income. It was also one of their main sources of food. “Most of us not eatin’ it,” Dardar said. “We all worried about getting sick with this stuff. We don’t know yet, but we decided to wait a little while.”
Dardar’s family used to eat crab two to three times a week, and seafood was part of their daily diet. “We still have some we kept in the freezers,” Dardar said, adding they’ve eaten their frozen food sparingly.
“Right now all the boats that were working over here, they all off. They ain’t working no more,” Dardar said. “They kind of hesitating to go out. They waitin’.”
He added, “It’s something we ain’t never had before. We don’t know what to expect.”