Vietnamese-American Fishermen Have Submitted 16,858 Claims…Only ONE Has Been Paid


We’ve noted before that claims policies set in Washington, D.C., are worlds away from the culture of the Gulf, and nowhere is that more clear than with the issue of Vietnamese-American fishing communities. There, the informal system of “barter” allowed families to trade seafood for a variety of services in what amounts to a neighborhood barter system.

This is not, of course, new to the BP claims debate. There’s even a name for it – an insulting, condescending name but a name nonetheless: the “Subsistence Use of Natural Resources claim” for anyone “who uses natural resources that have been injured, destroyed, or lost as a result of the Spill to obtain food, shelter, clothing, medicine, or other subsistence use,” according to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

And the Claims Facility also states that “an individual who uses fish or other wildlife for food but can no longer do so because of the Spill may file a Loss of Subsistence Use claim.”

Guess how many of those Subsistence claims have been paid? The Times-Picayune has that figure, and this whole story, in a report by Benjamin Alexander-Bloch: “Of the 16,858 claimants who have applied for loss of subsistence, only one so far has been accepted, according to Gulf Coast Claims Facility statistics. That claimant received $3,000. Amy Weiss, [GCCF] spokeswoman, said in an email message Wednesday afternoon: “Anyone who files a subsistence claim must provide documentation and evidence that he or she has been impacted and that he or she lives off the land.”

So, the program set up for people who legally barter but don’t have formal receipts has accepted ONE out of 16,858 claims. These are the same hard-working Americans who have trouble accessing assistance programs because of cultural and language barriers. It’s another look into the reality of what’s going on in Gulf communities.

This is yet another tragic chapter in an ongoing story of destruction and despair. If the Claims Facility doesn’t make accommodations soon for Vietnamese-American fishermen, we may very well see an entire community and culture disappear from the Gulf forever.

The Times-Picayune story is here:

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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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