Even though Mississippi waters and shores remain virtually untainted, the BP oil catastrophe is reshaping life in fishing villages such as Pass Christian.
Seafood retailers and wholesalers now scour the Gulf for once-bountiful supplies of shrimp and oysters because federal waters are closed, as are private oyster beds in Louisiana and state grounds in Alabama. Many local shrimpers are fishing for oil because shrimp in state waters are small, and BP pays better. Tensions are high at the harbor, where fishermen not called up for BP’s Vessels of Opportunity point to small recreational boats that have gotten the work laying boom and tracking oil.
Uncertainty runs like a slow current through the town. Nobody knows when this catastrophe will end, or how bad the economic and environmental damage will be. Residents worry a lifestyle they have enjoyed for generations is slipping from their grasp.
Earlier in the week Mayor Chipper McDermott cruised off to Pensacola, Fla., for a few days because he needed a break from the stress. He has a new city hall opening in three weeks, the old one having been destroyed by Katrina. Now this.
“The water’s the only thing that calms me,” McDermott said from his cell phone as he drove east, hoping he would encounter no tar balls in Florida. “I’m hyperactive. I was born hyperactive and I’ve had a relapse. Everybody was trying to get me out of there because I was driving them crazy, too.
“We’re trying to come back, period, and then to have this oil thrown at us …”