BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They've waited months to get back to their livelihoods, yet some Gulf Coast fishermen are worried the waters reopened too soon, putting public safety at risk.
Fishermen from Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida met for hours in Biloxi Wednesday. They say they are concerned that since the oil well has been capped, the federal and state government leaders think the crisis is over.
The fishermen say they have seen some strange behavior in the sea life, and they blame the chemical dispersants used to break up the oil. They want more testing done on seafood.
Mark Stewart is a Mississippi fisherman.
"All the sea life is trying to get out of the water," Stewart said. "The turtles are all out there with their heads sticking out of the water trying to get air. It's not normal."
"Sea creatures that are normally bottom species are on top of the water due to the water column is so full of dispersants," said Danny Ross, another Mississippi fisherman. "The oxygen level is so low. A Horseshoe Crab, it's on top of the water trying to swim. We've never seen that in our life. We might not be biologists, but we know our waters. This is not normal."
Gulf Coast fishermen say they chose Biloxi as their meeting place because the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Conference is underway here. Several of the fishermen told us they planned to attend the event to make their voices heard and express doubts as to whether the seafood is safe to eat.
Kathryn Birren traveled from Florida for the meeting.
"Fishermen do not want to lose our credibility or deliver contaminated seafood to market," Birren said. "We have lost enough already. As fishermen, we know that the use of dispersants has made this crisis vastly worse for everyone. It has hidden the oil from view and has created a false sense of health and safety."
"We want the use of dispersants to be ceased immediately. We want seafood fresh to be tested for dispersants, which is not happening at this time. We want the dispersants tested for their harmfulness to seafood," said Birren.
"They're telling people it's okay to eat seafood from our Sound out here, it's not,"
said Mississippi fisherman James Miller. "We're very concerned fishermen. The dispersants are taking all the oxygen out of the water. They don't want to come to that conclusion. They just want to sweep it under the rug."
Some commercial fishermen tell WLOX they believe low oxygen levels is the reason why they've haven't been able to catch very much seafood since the waters reopened.
Fishermen created a lists of requests from the meeting:
1. The EPA and Coast Guard to discontinue current chemical dispersant use and test all seafood and fisheries with updated testing protocols.
2. BP and upcoming Feinberg Commission to establish more transparency for BP claims process and hiring practices regarding VOO program.
2. BP and federal agencies train and hire local commercial fishermen for all hazardous testing initiatives and clean -up work in a culturally competent manner.
4. Federal, state, and local agencies to develop community based health centers to service at-risk seafood industry population who are exposed to dispersants and oil clean-up.
5. Establish and fund regional collaborative scientific community to monitor and research oil spill impact on the environment. The collaborative scientific community will be advised by a committee of Gulf of Mexico resident leaders (non-related to the oil and energy industry) to ensure open and transparent centralized data management center that provides free public access.
6. Establish a regional task force with representation of community leaders from all Gulf Coast states including Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to collaboratively work with federal agencies to develop a comprehensive workforce development plan.
The Gulf Coast Fund organized the meeting.