US & Canada

Gulf fishermen play waiting game

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Media captionBP may have capped the well, but for the fishing communities of Louisiana, oil contamination isn't their only worry.

Billy Colligan's phone would normally be ringing off the hook at this time of year. But not during the summer of 2010.

Mr Colligan is the captain of a charter boat, and usually takes tourists from out of state fishing for speckled trout in the coastal waters of Louisiana.

Once the oil spill began, people started to cancel. Then the waters were closed for recreational fishing and Mr Colligan's business dried up altogether.

Now BP appears successfully to have capped the well, Mr Colligan says that's "good news for everybody".

He adds: "We have been waiting to hear it for over three months now. "

As the seagulls circle, he introduces me to Donny Kennair, an oyster fisherman, and William Lutz, who catches shrimp.

Mr Kennair's family has been farming the oyster beds of Buras for more than 100 years, and now he is finding that the familiar rhythms of this place have been horribly disrupted.

Mr Kennair is very worried about the impact of the dispersants BP has been using to break up the oil.

Chemical woes

Lightning streaks across the horizon as we are talking, and the skies darken, a reminder that this is the hurricane season.

Image caption Charter boat operators and fishermen are among those hard hit by the spill

"With a hurricane, you know what to expect," says Mr Kennair. "With this you have no idea what to expect, could the oysters be contaminated, or not?"

These fishermen are used to the challenges thrown at them by the elements, but this is something else altogether.

Mr Lutz is also troubled by BP's use of chemical dispersants. "I would like to see the oil floating on the surface rather than have it sitting on the bottom with all those shrimp, crab and oysters," he tells me, frowning heavily.

The fishermen suspect that there was a rush to use dispersants because it made the oil spill less visible.

Even though many here have found work either directly for BP or via a contractor since the oil spill, there is little love lost between the oil company and the fishermen.

"You can't trust these guys," mutters one when I ask him about the capping of the well.

Consumer confidence

The culture clash between the men of the sea and the oil executives from Houston is marked.

Image caption Gulf residents do not know when their life will return to normal

But mostly, what people here want is to be able to get back to work soon.

The recreational fishing waters have just been reopened, so if any tourists were to call Billy Colligan, he could take them out.

But the phone's not ringing just yet. The men wonder when consumer confidence will return to the Gulf Coast.

Mr Kennair says: "We still have to have a biologist go out there to the oyster beds, to check the meat and to see no-one gets sick off our product. We used to fish 45% of the nation's oysters, and now we have to get them in from out of state."

Mr Lutz is relieved by the apparent end of the oil spill, but troubled about the longer term.

"I have mixed feelings," he tells me, as the rain drizzles down. "It's a relief in one way, but it's still not over. There's a lot of uncertainty. It will take some other kind of crisis to take the focus off of us."

Mr Lutz wants people to feel they can eat the shrimp fished in these waters without fear.

The oil spill has turned this world upside-down, and the men of this community have no idea when life will return to normal.

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