BP Oil Spill Impacts
Mississippi River Basin
Mississippi River Basin
Larry Esteche & Adam Guidry
Co-Owners of L & A Seafood and Produce
Alison M. Jones
NWNL Director and Photographer
NWNL Expedition Guest
Oil Spill Impacts Shrimp & Crabs
Oil Spill Hurts the Community
Injustice Meets Resilience
Crabs & Mustard Greens
All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.
The Deepwater Horizon Spill (aka the BP Oil Spill) caused disastrous pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River Delta and the Atchafalaya Basin beginning in the Spring of 2010. Considered the largest-ever marine oil spill, 4.9 million barrels flowed for 5 months into valuable fisheries and ecosystems, devastating the health of critical Mississippi River estuaries, wetlands, and surrounding economies. Not until 3 years after this interview (Sept. 2014) did a U.S. District Court judge rule that British Petroleum was primarily responsible due to gross negligence and reckless conduct. Not until 5 years after the spill (July 2015), did BP agree to pay $18.7 billion in fines. This is the largest corporate settlement ever in the US.
NWNL Larry, as we sit here outside your seafood and produce stand, can I you describe what’s happening to your business as a result of the BP Oil Spill?
LARRY ESTECHE I’m from right here in Houma where I run this seafood and produce. My business used to do anywhere between $300,000 and $400,000 per year. But ever since the BP Oil Spill we had down here last year I am lucky to do $120,000. I used to move crabs, right at $150,000 to $175,000 per year. And now we are lucky to move $30,000 per year – maybe.
NWNL What about your shrimp business?
LARRY ESTECHE The same thing as with the crabs. So far this year the shrimp is down to less than half. I generally get a lot of my shrimp from Bluewater Shrimp Company in Dulac, right outside of Houma. They usually pull out 2 million pounds of shrimp for the winter. I was talking to them the other day – and learned that so far this year, they haven’t been able to pull up 1 pound of shrimp. So, come this winter, shrimp will be very scarce.
I am getting charged $25 a pound for the few shrimp that they’ve got in Houma right now. Before, for the same shrimp, they would charge me anywhere from $7.99 to $8.99 a pound. I generally move right around $200,000 a year in shrimp. This year, I don’t look to move… – well, maybe $40,000 to $50,000.
NWNL This must be a terrible shock. Do you blame it all on the BP Oil Spill?
LARRY ESTECHE Well, look at the crabs…. There are absolutely no crabs, certainly not enough to go around.
NWNL How many people are affected by the BP Oil Spill – and in what ways?
LARRY ESTECHE Down here in Houma, our only livelihood is oil fields and the shrimp industry. We don’t have manufacturers to rely on to earn a living. I mean, it’s only the oil fields and the seafood industry. Then to top things off, President Obama shut down the whole oil field. That puts on another damper. BP brought all of Louisiana down to zero money, because shrimp and oil are the only two things to elevate it.
Also, a lot of our crab factories still can’t afford to open back up because they lost so much money and BP is not doing what it should have. BP should be making restitution to the people that lost money. Still today, even myself, I’ve wound up having a hard time because BP is not wanting to do restitution. They are just playing around with everybody.
NWNL Do you see things improving soon in the oil or shrimp industries?
LARRY ESTECHE A lot of people around here have foreclosures on their homes and everything else. So, it’s going to be tough for Houma to come back and it’s going to take a long time. They told us they cleaned up the oil; but there’s no way possible they cleaned up that oil with the amount that went down there. And it would not shock me if, close around where the spill took place, they had a hole 5 to 6 feet deep filled with oil down on that bottom. Ain’t a doubt in my mind.
So, every time summer going to come, the water is going to heat up in the 90’s. And when we get hurricanes, there is going to be a conflict when all the spilled oil is brought back up. So, I just don’t know what the hell to say about the situation – except that it is a sad thing that took place.
NWNL Did folks like yourself suffer seafood declines before the BP oil spill? Or were fish, crab, and shrimp populations naturally stable before then?
LARRY ESTECHE The declines before were not even close to what happened after the spill. Before the oil spill killed the shrimp and crab population, I had no problem. I was able to get as much as I needed at all times. And the other thing about it right now is that, even with the little bit of shrimp and crab we are getting now, my sales are way down because the people here don’t have no money due to the oil spill.
NWNL Does the oil spill impact affect the Delta’s infrastructure as well as the numbers of crab and shrimp?
LARRY ESTECHE So, either way it goes, everything that hurts us now relates to the oil spill. Like right now, we have crabs and we will be able to reopen. But crabbers that are able to go out to catch a few crabs, they have no crab docks left. I mean we are all losing until all this [infrastructure] comes back into play – and I am not going to look for it to come in anytime soon. Here, the crab business can reach anywhere between a half million to $750,000; but the last offer they offered me was $25,000. That’s not even a drop in the bucket. When they gave me a temporary settlement of $90,000, the federal government grabbed $20,000 of it, claiming that it was a type of income.
NWNL How is BP answering these complaints?
LARRY ESTECHE Now, BP is not wanting to talk to no body. They are not even paying a fraction of what they told us. So, I just hope eventually something come around — not only for myself, but for all my other people around Houma and along the Gulf Coast. I mean, it’s time everybody gets serious.
What really upsets me about the situation is that BP is making huge settlements with people with candy shops, bow and arrow shops, and even clothing stores. How in the world do we in the seafood business take that? I am not saying that those people weren’t hurt and shouldn’t get some; but take care of the seafood guys first. And then work your way up from that. It’s unbelievable. But, I mean that’s the way our government works, I guess. You know for years, many years, the government classified all the families down here as a dumb coon land.
NWNL As what?
LARRY ESTECHE A dumb coon land. You know, thing about it is they can take what they want, but we’re going to survive. We are survivors. No matter what, we are going to feed our family. So, that’s pretty much all I have to say.
NWNL One more question – did the oil spill affect the quality of the shrimp?
LARRY ESTECHE There is no damage whatsoever as far as the quality of the shrimp and seafood we get now to consume, to eat and everything. It’s fine. In the water, there are enough parasites to keep the water clean. As far as to be eaten and cooked, the seafood is safe to eat. We have more testing on Louisiana seafood now than we ever had in history! So basically, the seafood is safer now than it has ever been.
NWNL Thank you very much, Larry, for sharing what are difficult times. And now, your partner Adam is finding some crabs for me to photograph….
ADAM GUIDRY (Looking into a bucket of crabs…) Where you at, boy? Way down there, there’s one. It’s covered up. Give me a leg. There’s a little one. We get them a lot bigger. Those are the male crabs. You don’t want to shake hands with them. They’ll do the same thing as the females. I try and grab it from underneath. They will reach up pretty far.
NWNL As you hold that one up, I see the white part you said indicates it’s a male.
ADAM GUIDRY Usually we get a pretty good mixture of crabs, males and females. We haven’t been catching too many males. They get a little wild. They grab a hold of you. As you try to pull on them, the tighter they get. They tighten down on you.
NWNL It seems there’s a variety of sizes.
ADAM GUIDRY We normally get a pretty good size. There’s a big claw on this one. I have had them bigger than that. I had one here that weighed two pounds. We have some here a lot larger than this. This is what we consider a Number Two size. A Number One Select is almost twice the size of these. I’m going to see if I’ve got one down in there.
NWNL Where do these crabs come from?
ADAM GUIDRY These were fished on the North Bayou; over the drain in the back area; up along the edge of the coast: and in the inlets, lakes and all. In the winter, the tide gets lower and the fishermen have to move all their stuff deeper into the water. And if it gets too cold, the crabs bury themselves.
NWNL In addition to crabs and shrimp, what fresh produce do you carry?
ADAM GUIDRY We have fresh mustard greens today. Have you had that since you here?
NWNL Oh, yes, I like mustard green – especially those my daughter grows.
ADAM GUIDRY These are fresh-picked, daily, and only as we need them. Usually folks can get them in the stores, but those are in little bitty bunches. They are not like this. There is a lot of work involved cooking these greens, you know. You have to take them and get them ready. I keep them in this locker where they can stay cool. fresh and crispy looking.
NWNL Well it’s lunchtime, so we will leave you both and hopefully find a meal of shrimp and mustard greens! Thank you and best of luck with further restitution and cleanups from the BP Oil Spill.
Posted by NWNL on February 20, 2020.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.
Interview Guidelines describe the NWNL protocol for editing raw transcripts.
All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.