Gulf Fishermen Struggle to Make a Living

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BARATARIA, La. - The people of the small fishing town Jean Lafitte, La., have been living a nightmare the past two months.

Just 40 miles south of New Orleans, Lafitte stands as a tribute to a time when people didn't lock their doors at night and knew every neighbor on the block.

Now, residents are working to save their livelihood as the fishing industry that held their community together is crumbling because of the Gulf Coast oil spill.

"You're out there in the heat, the rain, the storms. You deal with the hurricanes and all those things that go with it," charter fisherman and lodge owner Raymond Griffin said about Gulf fishing. "But if you have that passion inside, there's not a better way of life in the world."

It's peak shrimp season, but the oil spill has closed Louisiana's Barataria Intercoastal Waterway. In response, local shrimpers have signed up to help as the oil spreads into the fragile marshes.

"The vast marshland down here, I don't think people realize how sensitive it is and how oil can damage it so quickly," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Col. Michael Heisler said.

The area fishermen are happy for a paycheck, but they're driven by more than just money.

"I've had supervisors say they've never seen men work so hard or with such focus down here in Barataria," Griffin explained.

The fisherman also know the marshy waterways by heart, making them a great asset to the Coast Guard teams.

"I won't even try [to navigate the marshes] without someone locally beside me because of the currents and tides changes," Heisler said. "You can get disoriented very quickly, so we rely on the locals to be our experts and our guides."

"We are like the Cajun Navy," resident Ripp Blank added. "Everybody here is going to sink with the ship. We're not going to do any more than what we're doing now to make sure we can get back to doing what we do for a living."

Still, uncertainty about the future is getting to even the bravest of hearts. Lafitte Pastor Kenneth Bladsacker has seen how his neighbors are hurting.

"It's just a scary situation," he said. "My heart breaks for these people because I don't know how they're surviving."

Many out-of-work fishermen have been hired by British Petroleum sub-contractors, but others aren't so lucky. Bladsacker has been seeking and giving messages that he hopes help his parishioners cope.

"Most of the time it's a message of encouragement, of hope [and to] hold on," he said. "It's a message God showed me: to hold on, push through, keep on, don't stop [because God is] in control."

Meanwhile, local officials are working on plans to construct walls made of rock and partially sunken barges to block the oil from reaching the entrances of passes east of Grand Terre Island.

They hope the move will help save prime fishing grounds. BP is picking up the tab.

Despite the objections of some environmentalists, the local mayor says the plan -- combined with vacuum barges and skimmer boas -- will work.

If it doesn't, local officials will have to come up with something else. They have no other choice

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Jennifer Wishon

Jennifer Wishon

CBN News White House Correspondent

Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.