Where there is a crisis, there are people in need. For all those people that are getting help, there are others who get ignored. The people who get the widespread media attention surely need the help as well, but there’s so many out there who get nothing. I feel my purpose is to find those people, to learn their story, and to share it with the world. I want to shed light on the people sitting in the dark.. and give them hope that the sun can shine again.
Supporting the Fisherman in Shell Beach, Louisiana.
When you hear the words “Shell Beach, Louisiana” I think it’s pretty fair to say that nothing comes to mind. If you’re like most people in this world, you’ve never even heard of it. If you have, I don’t believe that you’ve given it a second thought.
When I hear the words “Shell Beach, Louisiana” my heart instantly breaks into a million pieces and all I see in front of me are the faces of the fisherman that I met in mid-August who told me of all the things I wished to know.
I took a trip to Shell Beach with a good friend of mine. We set out on a life changing adventure, in search of answers. After the gulf oil spill, we were up in arms trying to find a way – any way – that we could help these people who were affected. We tried to find ways to help clean, but that was cut short by all of the attempts on the other end to be the only ones involved in that effort. The last several months I have witnessed first hand how corrupt this world can be.
I buried myself in online news articles, pictures, and videos. Determined to make it to the gulf and to give back. I came across a video done by Global Green about the fisherman who resided in Shell Beach and how their livelihood was cut short because of what the oil was doing to the marine life in their area. By the end of the video I was in tears. It made me decide, hands down, that that’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t care if I could “do” anything in particular; I just wanted to be there. I wanted to know what they knew, see what they saw, and get into their lives if only for a moment. I wanted so badly to lend my hand, my support, and my heart to them in their time of need.
When we arrived in Shell Beach, we realized quickly that if you blinked then you would miss it. It is a minuscule town, and for that reason they are often overlooked. On my trip, I heard this more times than once.
My friend and I sat outside a small deli convenience store for what seemed to be the longest time, just gathering our thoughts. I had so much to say, and so much I wanted to be able to let them know, but now that we were there I drew a blank. I didn’t want to intrude, and I didn’t want them to think that we wanted to exploit anything that they were going through in any way.
After we talked back and forth for a while, we decided to drive up and down the marina. We looked out at the deserted boats and the families who occupied them, our hearts sinking with every moment that passed by. Though a small town, we had heard that when the season was good that this marina was very busy with fisherman and also people willing and ready to buy the fish that were caught. We eventually noticed that three fisherman had waved to us more than once, probably shocked to see people around that they didn’t know, who also looked very lost. We thought, “These guys seem like company we’d like to keep.” So we did. We mustered our courage and as I drove by them, we rolled down our window and asked them if we could ask them some questions. We reassured them that we were not reporters, we were not newscast, and we were not here to twist anything that they were going through. We just wanted the truth, and we wanted to know, because we cared.
They were more than happy to oblige us, so we pulled our car next to their boats and walked out into the blistering heat to join them. They had just cooked something up, were having a couple beers, and sitting out by their dock chatting.
This is all they could do.
At this time, they had nothing.
The lives they had built, and had worked generations for, had all come crumbling down. We weren’t sure where to begin.
I asked them if they could let people know anything, if they could have that power, and if they could invoke change and spread awareness, what would they want to say. They said nothing. All they want are their lives back, and that’s all they could really talk about. They let us know that BP was giving them a paycheck, to tide them over. This does not tide them over. All they want is to fish again, for people to want to buy fish again, and to do what they love to do.
They sat for over an hour, just explaining to us how they do nothing with their days but what we were doing just then. They explained how it might be an entire decade before their lives get even similarly close to where they were before the oil spill.
Even when the fish are aplenty, and even after they are safe to eat, many people will not want to trust it. The media has sent the market into a frenzy of oil-contaminated waters, which has steered them very clear of the fish anywhere near the gulf. There is no guarantee that it’ll ever be the same for them again, or that their children can carry on with the work that they have passed on to them.
They told me of their families, past and present. Each of them had a story, had families that this was affecting deeply, and there was nothing we could say or do to change that. At this point, they know that they can’t do anything else. They have no experience, and also no desire, to change now.
Can you imagine, for a moment, that your life was ripped from you and you were given no promise of it returning in the near future? The economy has taken a hit, there is not denying that. Many families have lost their jobs. This is an entire community that has been hit that way, taken not only their jobs, but also their pride and their memories. So, maybe in this disaster, this can feel like it can be overlooked. You hear about the tragedy of the gulf oil spill, you mourn for a second, you move on with your lives, because you are able to. These people are denied that right, since for hundreds of years fishing has been their rock. They have no life skills, and no other knowledge. So, for now, they are stuck. They are trapped in a fishing community with no fish – a life not worth living. This is their Twilight Zone. This is their worst nightmare.
I felt completely helpless, but I was just glad we had come to let them know, if nothing else, we were there for them. I let them know that many people felt the same way that we did, and wanted nothing but the best for them. Even if we can’t change what they’re going through, we support them.
On a side note, we brought up Katrina and how at least in that disaster you can rebuild. I was devastated when they told me that since they are not New Orleans, they got absolutely no help after the hurricane. They are just a dot on the map, especially when it comes to a powerhouse with such supporters as the city that they had to compare to. They explained how not only were they waste deep in water, but how it took out an entire row of their houses and absolutely none of it had been rebuilt yet.
I couldn’t believe it. These men get no breaks. I pleaded further with them if they could give us any way to help and I got a name and number of a man who is close with them who raises funds strictly for the fisherman. This made me so happy to find out, since that’s exactly what I wanted to do.
They were very generous with their time, and their lives. They opened up to us and I hope that the world as a whole will find it in their hearts to open up to them as well. These families deserve it.
We left with a bittersweet feeling; so sad that there wasn’t more we could do, but determined to get the word out about all we had discovered in this town I will forever fondly remember.
Upon coming home, my boyfriend mentioned to me that it says a lot about my character to care about what they are going through, being that I don’t even support fishing. I am vegan, and I suppose he’s right. But I am no one to judge someone’s lifestyle, just as I hope that they wouldn’t judge mine. Though, they did tell us that they wanted to cook us up some fish. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’d never touch it even if they did. But they touched me, regardless of what they do, I support these men and their families and all the struggles they must deal with because of a disaster that could have been prevented.
I hope others take an interest, get educated, and support the fisherman in the gulf.
The men we met wished to keep their identities anonymous.
But they endorse and wish to send others to:
George Barisich from United Commercial Fishermen’s Association
Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN)
Global Green USA