Gulf fishermen see livelihoods disappear, region’s economy suffers

Louisiana fishermen are beginning to come to terms with the harsh realities of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Not only do they face the loss of income this year, their fishing grounds and their way of life might be disappearing.

The wetlands and marshes where the Gulf’s prized oysters, shrimp, and other seafood spawn might be contaminated by the oil for years. And some gulf residents are disheartened because the American people have not stepped up to help them in this homegrown disaster.
 
“The abrupt and total end to revenue stream to the area, from millions of dollars coming in from the fishing industry dropping to zero, will have a ripple effect in the economy of the entire region, resulting in a financial crisis which will be around for a long time,” Ralph Litolff, Jr., CPA of Bourgeois Bennett, LLC, in Metairie, Louisiana, told AccountingWEB.
 
“Even if the spill stops today,”Litolff said, “the recovery could take years and all businesses, including CPA firms, will experience a slowdown from the decline in cash flow from the fishing industry.A significant percentage of seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from the Gulf. The industry food chain goes from the fishermen to the ice house to the fuel docks, the boat repair shops, and to the dock where they sell the fish. Then there are the food processors that sell wholesale and retail, and the trucking and other shipping companies that move the product around the U.S.”
 
Litolff has spoken with hundreds of fishermen from Venice, Louisiana, to Tampa, Florida, since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig.
 
“The first thing I tell them is that they have to accept it, that their way of life has been disrupted. They are frozen, angry, because they want to do something and they don’t know what to do,” Litolff said. “I suggest that they apply for BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program, which will pay them on a daily basis for the use of their boats in the cleanup, although BP hasn’t hired all of them. They can also apply for a monthly advance payment for loss of income or net profit,and also apply for economic injury disaster loans from the [Small Business Administration].
 
“Short term, their equipment is worthless because no one will buy it. After [Hurricane] Katrina, because many of them were uninsured and they lost their boats, they bought new boats with their life savings and now those boats are worthless. The labor market is very tight right now and even if they go to New Orleans, there are no jobs there. They have been fishermen all of their lives, in some cases for five generations. They do not have any other skills. And all anyone wants is to be able to do what they did before the spill,” Litolff said.
 
“It’s hard to understand why organizations are not stepping in to help these people – providing humanitarian aid, for example, to those who need food. I have no doubt that the American people would help if they perceived the need, and would donate to Gulf Coast restoration if there was some good way to do it. In some ways, also, it is hard to tell the story. You can only reach a small percentage of the effected areas by car and you have to view the area from boats or helicopters,” he said.
 
“There are some misperceptions,” Litolff said. “People think that everything that comes out of the Gulf is full of oil. Incredibly, some people think there is oil in New Orleans. There is no oil in New Orleans, but people are cancelling their vacations. The safeguards are in place. [The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries] are patrolling the off-limits areas. Where there is fishing, when the boats come into the docks, inspectors check every catch to make sure there is no oil.”
 
Litolff lives in New Orleans but has spent his weekends in Venice, Louisiana, 80 miles south of the city, since he was five years old.
 
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