4 years after BP spill, oystermen struggling - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

4 years after BP spill, oystermen struggling


Wednesday was a perfect day for oyster fishing in Plaquemines Parish, but no boats were moving.

As the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill approaches, some say it's still not practical to even take their boats out. They say in a region that at one time was the most productive in the world, the oysters are gone.

"Right now, we've got nothing to do with these boats," said Vlaho Mjehovich, a third-generation Croatian oysterman. "The areas we're accustomed to fishing have been wiped out."

Mjehovich has two boats passed down to him by his father, and one he built himself. They haven't budged in four years.

"We haven't worked over here since the spill," Mjehovich said. "It opened, but we don't know what it's opened for."

He's got plenty of company.

"Right now, there would be 100 boats coming in and out," said Bernie Picone. "Now, there's only a few, and there's nothing coming in and out."

Longtime leaseholders say none of the leases east of the Mississippi River and south of St. Bernard are producing any oysters, and everyone wants to know why.

"Something sterilized the beds," Picone said. "The beds are dead."

The dearth of oysters in the Pointe a la Hache region - at one time one of the world's most productive - has forced these oystermen to get creative. They now dredge from skiffs normally reserved for recreational fishermen, as they race to areas as far away as Terrebonne and Mississippi to fight for a catch.

Oyster dredges that should be out working right now are instead rusting and sitting idle. The fishermen have about a quarter-million dollars tied up in each of the boats, and they fishermen have some definite ideas as to what BP still needs to do to truly make things right.

"They need to come up and tell us the truth and fix it," said Picone.

For its part, BP says there's no evidence that the oil spill - or the dispersants used to control it - have anything to do with the oyster shortages, and it cites studies that point to freshwater diversion - something the oystermen acknowledge is a big problem.

They point to freshwater grasses that grow in their marina, where none grew before, as they continue to eke out a living.

"You can't give up hope," said Mjehovich. "We have to have hope, but it's been four years, and it's really disturbing that we can't get back to where we were before the spill."

And at this point, he's not sure if he ever will. The oystermen we talked with said they did receive compensation from BP, but it was only a drop in the bucket. They said the damage is long-term and much more help will be needed to save the industry.

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