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The wait goes on for Bayou fisherman as oil slick grows

Dominick Ficarino
The oil spill is taking its toll on the fishing village of Bayou La Batre

By Kristin Wilson Keppler and Franz Strasser
BBC World News America, Alabama

Dominick Ficarino's shrimp processing plant sits empty on a day that it would normally be teeming with activity.

His employees, in rubber boots and aprons, look for work to do, nervously glancing up at conveyor belts that aren't moving.

They try not to think about the growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

VOICES FROM THE GULF
three voices
Three people from Bayou La Batre, Alabama, on how the oil slick is affecting their livelihoods:

"We really don't want to think about it a whole lot," Dominick Ficarino says.

"We got long-term problems out here. We're running out of product and running out of places to fish for it. I've already lost 50% of my fishing area."

He is the owner of Dominick's Seafood, one of the biggest processing plants in the once bustling fishing village of Bayou La Batre in Alabama.

As the oil spill grows, Mr Ficarino and others like him stand in dockyards filled with boats that should have long since been out at sea.

Restrictions have limited his options of where to fish - with no guarantee of a catch even if he does send his vessels out.

"We have concerns that people will be scared when we do go fishing that possibly the seafood is contaminated from the oil," says Mr Ficarino.

A skidding halt

Hurricanes have knocked this village down again and again. But every time, it comes back.

"My granddaddy got wiped out in the 1960s by [Hurricane]Betsy. My family was totalled right up the road here by Frederick, and Hurricane Katrina wiped me out down to a slab."

But he is quick to point out that this crisis is nothing like a hurricane. He is almost wistful about it.

Dominick Ficarino talks about the challenges his town is facing

"Hurricanes are just short lived. We work right behind a hurricane. As soon as the weather lays, we may catch a few lawn chairs and a few odds and ends, but we catch shrimp behind a hurricane," he says.

"If they got us restricted to where we can't fish, we don't even stand a chance."

The Bayou, as it is known locally, is not a tourist destination. This is a fishing village and if there is no fishing, there is not much else.

"The biggest thing I see is..." his voice trails off as he looks over two of his boats, named after his daughters Ashleigh and Hannah.

"You know, I hope we can hang on to all the employees. I don't know exactly what we're going to do if production comes to a skidding halt.

"Then we got problems. I always believed a man gets up, goes to work, puts in an honest day and that's exactly how I'd like to keep my business."

'Stomping ground'

He is not a man to lay blame. Forty years of hurricanes have taught him that.

Bayou La Batre, AL
Map of Alabama
Population (2007): 2,336
Median household income (2008): $29,893

But anxiety has set in among this community as factories, ships and processing plants sit idle in what would usually be their busiest season.

More than two weeks of waiting and watching is taking a toll.

"I think it was played down a little bit at the beginning," Mr Ficarino says, drawing on a cigarette and nervously tapping his foot.

"They should have expressed a little more concern, and I thought the booms were a little bit late getting deployed. This oil is in my stomping ground. They can't stop the leak fast enough."

Any reason to hope? Sure. The storm in the shape of a slick has not yet decided where it wants to go. Maybe it will just head out to sea. He laughs. Stranger things have happened.



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