Even when there is good news about the Gulf oil spill, it comes tinged with more reasons for concern. BP announced a few days ago that a cap system at the site of the seabed leak was capturing about 11,000 barrels of oil a day.
That’s only a portion, however, of the estimated 12,000-24,000 barrels a day seeping into the ocean. Meanwhile, the ecology of the Gulf remains severely imperiled, and the people of the region who make their living from the sea face a huge threat to their way of life.
Last week at the Catholic Media Convention in New Orleans, I listened to a panel of local chefs talk about their concerns regarding the effects of the oil spill. One of the most eloquent speakers was John Besh of Restaurant August in New Orleans.
“What’s at stake here is the marine life, the fish life, the mammals,” he told a roomful of Catholic journalists June 4. “But it’s also a culture — it’s much deeper than what any person can imagine. To wipe out cultures that are hundreds of years old is something that is very difficult to grasp unless you’re from here and you know the people.”
These “cultures” include generations of fishermen — particularly shrimpers and oystermen — who make their living from the Gulf and are the lifeblood of the multi-billion-dollar Louisiana seafood industry. Seventy percent of all seafood from the Gulf of Mexico comes from Louisiana waters, Besh said. It amounts to about 30 percent of what our country consumes.
These are family — not corporate — operations and they have been dealt a series of hard blows in recent years ranging from Hurricane Katrina to the “rampant importation of sub-quality shrimp into the American markets that has just knocked the [domestic] market down,” Besh said.
Oil has always co-existed with the people of the Gulf region, and Besh said his complaint isn’t so much about oil as it is about failed leadership in the wake of the spill from the government and oil industry executives. More can and should be done to protect the coast.
Right now, New Orleans restaurateurs are doing OK, the food is safe and most of the area fisheries are still open.
But, Besh said, “What’s scary is that if we don’t take every sort of precautionary measure now, what will [the spill] affect? It’s up to people like us to get out there and try to bring as much attention to it as possible.”
“Frankly,” he added, “we all get caught up in our daily lives of kid baseball games, taking care of our restaurants and employee issues and things of that nature. You tend to forget there’s another world out there. That’s kind of what is hanging in the balance right now — a culture and a wetlands that may or may not be able to be restored if we should lose it all.”
Let’s pray that ongoing efforts to stem — and ultimately stop — the leak are successful. Whole ecosystems and ways of life hang in the balance.
Photo: Chef John Besh speaks June 4 at the Catholic Media Convention in New Orleans. (Photo by Dianne Towalski)