Oyster fisherman Byron Encalade. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Byron Encalade knows fishing. It’s in his blood.
As a third-generation oyster fisherman from East Point A’La Hache, Louisiana, Encalade and his family fisheries harvest oysters and shrimp transported across all Gulf Coast states. With Louisiana being the No. 1 provider of shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish in the United States, income, theoretically, should be limitless. But two years after the BP oil spill, which dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and resulted in the deaths of 11 rig workers, life, as well as business, has not been the same.
“We were recovering,” Encalade tells BET.com of his business in 2010, post-Hurricane Katrina. “It was literally five years from Katrina. My oyster beds were full of oysters. My boats were thriving again for the first time” he says. “Then, finally, when you get your oyster business back, which is the bulk of my business, you get the oil spill. You can imagine what kind of devastation happened to our community.”
Point A’La Hache, a small fishing village in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, has approximately 300 people, mainly African-Americans, whose primary industry is seafood. In addition to harvesting his own oysters, Encalade serves as president of the Louisiana Oysterman Association and the South Plaquemines United Fisheries Cooperative. He says he and the other fisherman believe it will take years before they are able to recover — time many of the African-Americans at sea like himself, in their 50s and 60s, may never live to experience. Encalade says the area’s seafood supply was completely destroyed after the oil spill and residents continue to hurt today.
“We’re still bleeding,” Encalade says. “The oysters is the heart of this economy in our Black community, and there are none. They’re dead, they’re not reproducing. A lot of these fishermen in my community got forced to take this $5,000 and $25,000 settlement to survive.
"Their lights were being cut off. They were losing their homes and their trailers, and they felt they had no other choice. That money didn’t last long," Encalade says. "So they’re right back where they were. Right now, they’re surviving off the good deeds of county charities.”
On Thursday, the Justice Department announced thousands of people affected by the BP oil spill will receive $64 million in additional compensation after an independent audit identified “significant” errors in the claims process set up after the disaster. Roughly 7,300 individuals and businesses were found to have not been adequately compensated by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), which has doled out about $6.2 billion out of a $20 billion fund BP created to compensate victims. Although funds have been made available, many Black fishermen have not been compensated, and advocates say Black fisherman are being excluded and unfairly compensated.
“There are things that have been used to deter Black people from taking part in these settlements,” John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, tells BET.com. “A lot of the landowners and Black fisherman may not have the documentation these larger white outlets have and that are being required to get these settlements. But, they were affected just like the next man, whether they had the documentation, tax returns or receipts of how much they had been selling before.”
Boyd has been on the ground meeting with fisherman and landowners, and he says they’re concerned what BP has put on the table may not be what they need to move forward. To see just how difficult it would be to file a claim when the process began, Boyd called the given 800-number and says he was given “a whole lot of run-around.”
“If those settlements are out there, make them readily available and accessible without a whole lot of loopholes," Boyd says. "You have some persons, I can say firsthand, who don’t have the education skills here, and because of that they shouldn’t be taken advantage of in these settlements.”
The Sprit of Hope Program is operated by Catholic Charities and currently helps approximately 1,000 fishermen in the Louisiana area to pay mortgages and bills to ensure that the fishermen and their families don’t get evicted. The charity tells BET.com that starting May 1 it will implement a “Back to the Water” program to help boat captains return to sustainable fishing by providing equipment, supplies, fuel and other necessities for the upcoming boat season, but, simply put, they say they “can’t do it all.”
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