Today was the start of shrimp season in Louisiana, and way down in the Mississippi delta, fishermen and shrimpers struck out from the small black fishing towns that dot the river and headed out into the Gulf of Mexico, hoping and praying for the best.
But ever since the BP oil spill back in 2010, their hauls have gotten lighter and their hopes and prayers a bit dimmer. The seafood industry and the livelihood of those who make their money off the side of boats is collapsing beneath them, fishermen said.
"We don't have millions of dollars sitting in the bank where we can go do something else. We live and die on the seafood industry. This is our culture," said Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association. "This is how we live."
The oysters in many beds haven't reproduced, he said. And early reports from shrimpers said the outlook for this season doesn't look good, if today's catch is any indication.
Encalade blames the 87-day oil spill in the Gulf and the dispersants used by BP to thin the oil caked on the water for blighting the sea life here.
"I don't know where this concept of 'Everything is alright and they are doing what they are supposed to do' came from," he said. "These people are suffering down here, and I don't think they have the slightest idea of how these communities are surviving. But they're doing it on the back of Catholic Charities, nonprofits and each other."
Encalade said BP's public relations machine kicked into high gear from the start of the disaster, but he and others in the Delta know all too well how devastating the spill has been.
All this on the heels of an investigation by The Huffington Post into BP's grossly misleading early estimates of just how much oil was spewing into the Gulf.