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Troubled Waters

Waiting Out the Oil Spill

Longtime Gulf Coast fishermen worry about their futures.

Gulf Coast Fisherman

Commercial fisherman Thomas Gonzales, 72, of Delacroix, LA., builds crab traps he can't use due to the Gulf Coast oil spill and subsequent fishing ban. He has accepted a $5,000 check from BP as a form of compensation. — Melissa Golden

Henry Martinez, a shrimper with bright white hair and a hefty belly, chuckles at the mention of the word “retirement.”

A pension is not a luxury afforded to small-town fishermen like Martinez, who has spent most of his 67 years on a family boat, combing the bayous for crabs and shrimp.

“There are a lot of people in this position,” said Vu, adding that his two-person office in Gretna, La., is not equipped to handle the immense needs of an Asian fishing community that he estimates numbers about a thousand people.

Thunn Arith Oum, a Cambodian translator for a branch of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which shares an office with Boat People S.O.S., has volunteered his time to help unemployed Cambodian fishermen in Louisiana.

Oum estimates that about 40 percent of the state’s Asian fishing population is over the age of 50, and that most have language barriers that make it more difficult for them to handle the spill.

“The older people don’t speak much English, and they have a hard time understanding,” Oum said. “The younger people speak better English, and they’re having an easier time.”

Jen DeGregorio is a freelance journalist living in New Orleans who has covered the oil and shipping industries.

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