For Gulf fishermen, BP continues to add insult to injury


At this stage, some 54 months after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, BP must been thinking that this would all go away. Surely, in their posh boardroom somewhere in the glass skyscrapers over London, overpaid executives imagined that by 2014 the beaches that BP wrecked with its crude oil would be free of tar balls, that the damaged marshes would spring back to life, and that visitors to the Gulf would again see the fishing boats brimming with shrimp or red snapper pulling up to the dock. And that would allow BP to go back to its work of drilling for oil in some of the world’s riskiest spots, and making billions of dollars every quarter.

But the British oil giant seriously miscalculated. It hadn’t occurred to them that the cleanup workers and rescue workers and other folks who live along that coast who were poisoned by unprotected exposure to BP’s toxic crude would still be sick four-and-a-half years later. And — although they would have known this if they had studied what has happened in Alaska since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 — BP’s executives also weren’t smart enough to realize that the seafood catch would not come back to normal for years, probably for decades.

The fishing industry workers of the Gulf are still bearing witness to the never-ending impact of BP’s carelessness, and the news is not good. In New Orleans, Judge Carl Barbier has reopened the question of whether the original settlement deal in 2012 was fair to Gulf Coast workers who were sickened. Listen to the story of one such man:

During his cleanup work on June 21, 2010, Mead fell into the sludgy oil- and chemical-laced Gulf waters. He was rushed to a BP facility on shore, where reports indicated he had “high exposure” to oil on most of his body and suffered a burning sensation on his skin.

But the medical professional provided by BP wrote it off as minor and told him to “shower thoroughly and return to work.” Mead said that about a year later, he started having monthly outbreaks of painful, swollen lesions all over his back, arms and legs.

He was diagnosed with chronic dermatitis, one of the conditions that would qualify for the maximum $60,700 payment for a chronic condition under the settlement. But the disputed interpretation of BP’s medical claims settlement says Mead was diagnosed too late and must wait for his individual case to be litigated.

“BP said early on — the CEO — that they’d take care of us,” Mead said. “And they haven’t.”

The treatment of ailing Gulf workers like Mark Mead — who raced toward the Deepwater Horizon rig to help people just minutes after the explosion — is truly shameful. There are thousands of people in the same boat, and no settlement will truly compensate the agony that many of them have been through. But almost everybody along the Gulf is hurting one way or the other. People who depend on the Gulf’s daily catch for a living have been devastated:

One of the most significant declines between 2010 and 2013 was the catches of yellowfin tuna, which decreased by 52 percent in comparison with catches recorded between 2002 and 2009, Roth said.

Catches for yellowfin tuna in the Gulf plummeted to 439,903 in 2010, compared to over 1.9 million of the species caught in 2009. Catches have since rebounded slightly with nearly 1.2 million caught in 2013.

Catches for redfish increased slightly in 2009 and 2010 but have since declined by 24 percent when compared to the number of catches between 2002 and 2009, Roth said.


Catches of white and brown shrimp dropped 14 percent and 32 percent respectively from 2010 to 2013 compared to catches recorded from 2002 to 2009.

This has taken billions of dollars out of the Gulf Coast economy since 2010 — but it has also sapped people’s souls. A sense of exhaustion is setting in, a sense that if things are not back to normal now, that it might indeed be a long, long wait. I’m glad that Judge Barbier is re-examining the medical settlement, and there is an opportunity there for some relief. But there’s one thing that even a federal judge lacks the power to do — and that’s turn the clock back to April 19, 2010.

Check out the Pensacola News-Journal on Gulf fishermen awaiting news on the medical settlement:

Read more about the BP spill’s impact on the Gulf fishing fleet at:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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