Officials: Fishermen fear getting back on water could hurt claims earnings (VIDEO)


NEW ORLEANS – Pete Gerica has been back at it – trying to catch shrimp and crabs – but he says it’s slim pickings.

Add that to rising fuel prices and Gerica says, sometimes, it just isn’t worth the effort.

“To just go out and piddle around and test Lake Ponchartrain to see if there’s any shrimp out there, you’re gonna blow a couple hundred dollars a day,” he said.

Now, local seafood industry leaders, like Ewell Smith with the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board, are concerned another force may be keeping folks off the water – uncertainty about their ability to collect oil spill damages.

“Fishermen aren’t sure, if they go out and fish and they’re catching, does it hurt their claim process, or does it encourage them to stay home and not fish? It’s not defined,” Smith said. “It almost encourages them to stay home and not fish.”

Gary Bauer, a seafood processor, said the thought is that money made from fishing now would be deducted from a fisherman’s claim.

“It’s kind of like penalizing the commercial fishermen that have the initiative to go back to work,” Bauer said. “So, what incentive do they have to go back to work right now?”

Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, said if fishermen stay home when they could be getting back to work, they’re no longer eligible for collecting.

“If people can go back and fish, or if they can crab, or if they can go back to the jobs that they had, they, first of all should do that, and second of all, won’t receive payment if work is able to be undertaken,” she said.

Some are apparently taking their chances, according to seafood industry officials.

Ewell Smith said there’s too much gray area in the claims rules – a reason he and others initially pushed BP to set up an incentive program to get fishermen back on the water.

The plan was never approved, and now, Smith says supplies are lacking.

“We’re not gonna have the product in the marketplace, which creates a problem for us,” he said. “When you lose continuity of product in the marketplace, we have challenges for the marketing of our products.”

Some fishermen are having success in bringing in nice hauls of seafood on Louisiana waters, Smith said, but he adds, not enough are giving it a shot.

Meanwhile, Pete Gerica is doing what he can to bring in Louisiana seafood of his own, but it hasn’t been easy.

“It’s like going to a casino,” he said. “You might hit it, you might not.”

See video here:–107124229.html

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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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