It’s been more than two years since the BP oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico, and still for many, the stress and the uncertainty of what their futures hold remain.
Arriving in the bayou at 2 a.m. (Image by Jessey Dearing)
At the beginning of August, we went back down to Louisiana to spend some time with the Arnesens and find out what’s been going on with the community and fisheries. We planned our trip around a large conference hosted by Gulf Organized Fisheries In Solidarity and Hope, or GO FISH, which brought together fisheries from all over the coast of Louisiana and parts of Mississippi and Alabama. The goal was to learn about the current status of the class action law suit and BP’s proposed settlement, which they are almost all a part of, as well as to gather information about the status of other fisheries outside of their own. It was kind of like part legal advice seminar, part large group therapy. We learned a lot from that meeting (which will be addressed in a future blog post), but the two biggest takeaways? The settlement is extremely complicated and confusing, and a lot of fishermen are worried about both their short-term and long-term futures.
Jessey shooting at the GO FISH meeting at the Alario Center, August 4 (Image by Lauren Frohne)
We were able to spend quite a bit of time with Kindra and her family during this visit, which offered us a lot of insight into how they are living and getting by day-to-day. Regarding their health, the kids have been doing much better than the last time we visited (still the occasional bad day or week, but not as persistent), but Kindra and David are both battling constant headaches, skin ailments, and other symptoms they never noticed before the oil spill. It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of it all, especially since their financial worries have really taken the spotlight recently.
Kindra, David and Jessey talk on the porch at the Arnesens’ home in Buras, La. (Image by Lauren Frohne)
David has been fishing as much as he can, but in earlier fishing seasons this year, he and others weren’t catching enough fish to justify the money it costs just to run the boat (diesel fuel and ice costs more $300 per day for his boat). Right now, it’s King Mackerel season, and he goes out almost every day, rarely taking a day off. He will admit, some days are good. But most days, he says, are mediocre at best. Overall, he says his income will be half what he made in previous years, if the rest of the year goes well. His worries about his fishery, his choices, his financial uncertainty keep him up at night.
Sunrise over the Bayou from David Arnesen’s boat (Image by Jessey Dearing)
David’s deckhand Bob prepares bait (Image by Jessey Dearing)
The bayou on the way home (Image by Jessey Dearing)
Meanwhile, Kindra has had to cut back quite a bit on the activism she does beyond her laptop. Money has gotten tighter, and while David and Kindra both see the value in traveling, meeting and making sure their story is heard, they are running low on resources. She spent a lot of time helping to organize GO FISH preparation meetings as a representative of a group called Association of Family Fishermen. She also did a lot of direct outreach, going to every dock and marina up and and down Highway 23, convincing fisherfolk to attend the meeting. She spends more time at home now, but her mind is almost always consumed by this disaster.
The Venice Marina (Image by Lauren Frohne)
The kids have been on summer vacation, but just began the new school year. The August shrimp season just opened and everyone is crossing their fingers that it’s a decent one. But they are cautiously optimistic. For now, their plans to move are sort of on hold, but definitely not off the table. Kindra and David both admit that if someone offered to buy their house tomorrow — heck, today — it would be difficult to turn it down.
But for now, the Arnesens and all the fisherfolk wait until October 31, the deadline for opting in or out of BP’s proposed settlement. That will determine whether BP must offer a different settlement, if families will receive payouts from the settlement, or if they will have to pursue their own lawsuit.
For now, we are also waiting, and working on capturing those moments in between.
David Arnesen interviewed on his front porch (Image by Jessey Dearing)
Aleena, 10, and little David, 7, play in the pool at the local YMCA in Buras, La. (Image by Lauren Frohne)
Sunset over the Arnesen house in Buras, La. (Image by Lauren Frohne)