“The Gulf was My Church” – A Fisherman Reflects on Loving, and Leaving, the Gulf Coast | Bridge The Gulf Project

“The Gulf was My Church” – A Fisherman Reflects on Loving, and Leaving, the Gulf Coast | Bridge The Gulf Project.

An excerpt:

“Bait boat, you out there Joey?”
“Go ahead, Cap” I replied.
“Can you believe that it blew up?”

I was speechless as I then knew the magnitude of the disaster.  What I did not know was that my life would change forever that day, and so would the lives of many others.  I decided to come in early after the rush to try to catch the news and find out any details about the explosion.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I knew my livelihood as a cast net fisherman was in jeopardy, especially if they didn’t stop the leak pretty quick. If you grew up in the Gulf, you kinda know what can happen if a rig blows up.  OIL, and lots of it, flows into the ocean. But wait, they have a mechanism that supposedly seals the wellhead right? Maybe it won’t be so bad.  I felt so much sympathy for the workers who lost their lives that night, and for the families who lost loved ones. Man, I love my daughter so much, I thought to myself.

I can’t remember who told us about the meeting in Pensacola regarding BP hiring boats to work clean up, but I was going to be the first one there to sign up, considering it’s not feasible to throw a cast net with oil in the water. My business partner and myself were waiting for them to unlock the door for the meeting. After an hour or so of questions, a few very elementary videos, and some big promises, we took the contracts home. We were signed up for the now infamous VOO program, Vessels of Opportunity.

For the next few months we looked for, documented, and cleaned up oil and dead wildlife from the spill. At the time of the big July stand down, when clean-up operations were scaled back and a large number of VOO workers were fired, we saw more oil than ever before, and things were getting worse. My boat never got called back.  We wanted to wear respirators, but we were informed that if we show up with, or get caught wearing any kind of respirator or mask, it would result in unemployment.

Sometime in August, I started getting very bad headaches and noticed I just wasn’t feeling right. Despite feeling bad everyday now, I decided to go back fishing after receiving my termination letter in the mail. Oh well, back to reality, I guess. Not many of us had been on the water in weeks, due to the fact that we were still contracted and could be called back at any moment, known as being on “stand by”.  I had been sick, so really I was out of the loop as to the oil locations or latest sightings. I anchored on the East side of the pass, not unlike the onset of this story, and began to fish. After 30 minutes of casting, I noticed myself getting dizzy and nauseous, and my skin started to burn. Next thing you know I was throwing up violently and didn’t know if I was even going to be able to get back to the dock. Well, I have never been one to let the flu stop me from working, so I went back the next night to try again. 30 minutes, same result, despite fishing a whole new area off the beach. It’s been downhill ever since for me, as my health fell apart from then on.

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