Page last updated at 14:36 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 15:36 UK

Voices: US Gulf coast braces for slick

Containment booms lie off the coast of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 29 April
Containment booms have been positioned off the coast of Plaquemines Parish

Community and fisheries representatives on the US Gulf coast have been telling BBC World Service of their concerns as the oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon disaster comes ashore.

Sal Sunseri, owner of the oldest specialist oyster supplier in New Orleans, the P&J Oyster Company, was worried about the effect on the region's tourist trade.

Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish near the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, said after surveying the slick by helicopter he was planning for a "last stand" in the marshland.

George Barisich, head of the United Commercial Fisherman's Association, which represents fishermen and shrimpers working Louisiana's environmentally sensitive oyster and shrimp beds, spoke of "fishing in front of the oil".


Workers shuck oysters at the P&J Oyster Company, New Orleans, 28 April
This could be a greater disaster for this region than Katrina

I think the first concern is that we were not prepared. We were not prepared for Katrina - now we are probably the city most prepared for hurricanes in the world. Well, we [Louisiana] are the largest offshore oil-producing state in the United States - why were we not prepared for this? That is what is very discouraging.

We are also the number one producer of seafood on the mainland and everyone is going to be affected, not just the oysterman, not just the shrimper, the crabber, but the restaurants, our incredible restaurants that cater for so many tourists and locals. We are going to be devastated.

As long as the slick is controlled and it stays on the east side, we have a vast amount of oyster production on the west side of the Mississippi River and that will be able to produce.

But they have not shut down the riser [the pipe which connected the drilling rig to the well]. It is still spewing oil. If we do not get that shut down, this could be a greater disaster for this region than Katrina.


A US Coast Guard helicopter flies over Plaquemines Parish, 29 April
We were disappointed that we did not get someone on the ground that could make decisions throughout this disaster

We are very worried. The boom that they have deployed offshore, from what we could see, is not really working. It is being overtopped and some of it has broken loose.

In the worst-case scenario, we will try to come up with a line of defence somewhere in the marsh where the wave action is less and we are going to try to take a last stand there. We will try to keep it out of the breeding-grounds of the oysters and fisheries and try to salvage 90% of Plaquemines Parish.

Some of the oil is touching the islands now. We saw a portion of the boom that had been pushed up on to the beach and saw some oil there on the beach so it has made landfall. We have had reports of it being in a couple of the bayous just off the Gulf so it is making its way inland and it will continue to do that.

We were disappointed that we did not get someone on the ground that could make decisions throughout this disaster. Hopefully that will change when the governor [Bobby Jindal] visits us, and BP will have a staff person in our emergency command centre.

I have been through [Hurricanes] Gustav and Ike, and the Katrina recovery, and we are always prepared for the worst but hope for the best. We have been relying on other people to fight this offshore because we do not have a good indication of how to fight this kind of thing. It is something we have never seen before but we are not used to sitting on our hands and waiting.

It is not something like [the] Exxon [Valdez tanker disaster off Alaska in 1989] where we know how much oil has been spilled. It is an open faucet [tap] at the bottom of that ocean that continues to pump out oil.

We do not know the long-term effects. I like to say there is something special about this parish, about the soil under people's feet, that they do not leave. I do not know what it is but they keep coming back. This is home. They are not going anywhere. Whatever it takes, we are going to fight and do all we can to save this community.


Shrimp boasts moored near Venice, Louisiana
You have always had this ominous fear of this happening

I do not think you can contain it. We are not talking about if there is going to be damage but about how much damage.

We are actually trying to fish out in front of the oil. They specially opened the shrimp season for us. We try to get what we can out of the water.

The tides bring the shrimp larvae in. Whatever goes anywhere near that, that is going to be killed right now, there is no doubt about it. That is just the shrimp.

And then once it starts to get further in, it starts to break up with the wave action against the land and stuff like that, whatever land it lands on, marsh, what we call saltwater marsh, it is going to kill that. And then once it breaks up - it is a heavy crude from what I've been told - it is going to drop out. And then once that stuff hits the bottom, if it is anywhere near the oyster region, we are going to lose them also.

Shrimp is a one-year crop so this year will be affected but it will also affect next year's because of your biomass. We only harvest a certain percentage, so you have some recruitment back into the wild, or "escape" as we call it - to lay eggs and come back next year. But if you wipe out a whole flood of it, it gives me less to catch and it gives the environment less to reproduce. It is a renewable resource.

The oil industry is a yin and yang-type thing. You need the oil, you need the diesel. You have always had this ominous fear of this happening. We just never expected it to be this volume, you understand, this massive. It is terrible, it is terrible. Nothing personal, it is just an accident. I feel for those people [oil workers aboard Deepwater Horizon] who lost their lives.

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