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Louisiana seafood, hold the oil

So I didn't make the guest list last night at the State Dinner, but I will put my meal up against whatever the grub was at the White House. Went to Coop's Place in the French Quarter, sat at the bar, had the taste plate. They start you with a cup of gumbo with a very dark roux (I forgot how much they love the butter down here) and a couple of crab claws poking out to the top. Big fat oyster as star of that show. Then came the main plate, and it ain't a pretty thing at all, because, frankly, you have to have it all explained by the bartender. There's shrimp remoulade, red beans & rice, and rabbit and sausage jambalaya, all topped by a fried chicken wing. I got so much momentum on that plate I had order a whole extra serving of marinated crab claws. Man. That's eatin'.

I know this is fascinating stuff for you all so let me tell you about what I had the night before: The Thibodeaux, at a restaurant called Lil' G's, in Belle Chasse. The Thibodeaux is two crab cakes slathered in creole cream sauce and sprinkled with crawfish. Side order of a garlic baked potato. Gosh I just can't stop thinking about it.

True, I'm writing this from the cardiac unit of the local hospital, but, come on, you gotta take one for the team in these situations. (Actually I'm sitting poolside at the motel; I could get used to this.)

I love the seafood from the gulf and regularly plunk down $11.99 a pound for brown gulf shrimp from my local fishmonger (one of the locals here told me that no one eats the brown shrimp here because it's too iodine-ish; they eat the white shrimp). You should see the shrimp coming off the trawlers, the incredible bounty. One of the guys I interviewed for my story today loaded two tubs with 600 pounds each of shrimp. They're too small, mind you. Season opened too early, because of the oil spill. They'll go to the processor and he'll probably get a dollar a pound.

Yesterday I saw a guy unload 21 sacks of oysters, each with 100 pounds inside. He had to use a front-end loader to get the sacks onto the back of a truck.

Nature is generous here. But for how long?

How many insults can this place take?

This BP oil spill is going to ruin a lot of great fishing grounds -- for years, is what it looks like. It's coming ashore for sure, and it's nasty stuff, I handled a bit of it yesterday -- chocolate syrup but stickier.

The reputation hit for Louisiana seafood -- and gulf seafood -- has already happened. (Though I saw a makeshift sign posted at the door of the landmark restaurant Brennan's: "We proudly serve Louisiana seafood.")

Who wants to eat oily shrimp? Never mind that they've closed a giant swath of the gulf to fishing and part of the inshore marshlands to oystering. No one wants to eat seafood that's come anywhere near an oil spill.

Well, I might still eat that stuff with enough hot sauce. Though if you douse it with that habanero sauce it might actually catch fire.

I don't like it when my oysters erupt in flames.


Sylvia Earle, the oceanographer, testified yesterday before Oberstar's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and talked about the deep ocean environment that I wrote about Sunday.

Many questions have been raised and I'll raise them again about the use of the dispersants that really are more cosmetic than helpful in terms of solving the real problems. If I could speak for the oceans, I would say halt the use of subsurface dispersants and limit surface use to strategic sites where other methods cannot safeguard critically important coastal habitats.

The headlines lament oiled birds, oiled beaches and marshes, oiled turtles, dolphins and whales as they should, but where's the constituency concerned about oiled cocapods, poisoned cocoliphaforids, proquoacas -- some of those creatures that are heavy lifters with respect to generating oxygen and driving food webs in the ocean.

The diatoms, the jellies, the pteropods, the squid, the larval urchins, the eggs and the young of this year's vital offspring of tuna, shrimp, and menhaden. Not only is the unruly flow of millions of gallons of oil an issue, but also the thousands of gallons of toxic dispersants that may make the ocean look a little better on the surface where most of the people are, but makes circumstances a lot worse under the surface where most of the life in the ocean actually is.

We've already, this year, seen the loss of two underwater systems that are not being supported any longer by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution -- the Johnson Sea-Links that for years have provided access down to 1,000 meters, 3,000 feet or so, since the 1970s; the Alvin submersible, the workhorse of the submersibles for scientific exploration since 1964, is about to be retired. It will be retired before its replacement is ready to go.

Meanwhile, Japan, Russia, China and France have systems, manned systems, that can go and make observations to at least half the ocean's depth. And no nation has a system that can go back to full ocean depth.

A visit there took place only once, in 1960, 50 years ago, for about half an hour in the Mariana Trench.

How many systems can go to 5,000 feet with human observers? Right now, it's a handful. And only the Alvin in this country really qualifies. The Pisces subs have been in that league.

But we are woefully unprepared to send anybody down to just take a look, to be able to evaluate with more than just a camera system -- as good as they are.

And where are the facilities that you can pull off the shelf for the Coast Guard to go down, for example, to evaluate on their own, not necessarily relying on industry-provided systems.

What's amazing to me is that the gulf is as resilient as it has been in the face of thousands of wells that have been drilled and that operations, the shipping on the surface, the heavy large- scale fishing operations that have taken place, there's still plenty of reason for hope. The ocean is still resilient.

And the Gulf of Mexico is almost a laboratory of resilience to show how some of these sophisticated operations can take place side by side with a productive kind of ocean system, not what it was a thousand years ago or even a hundred years ago, but still a viable, productive system.

But there are limits to what we can get away with and still have fish prospering, still have the spawning area for the western Atlantic in the western Gulf of Mexico. There are such things as going too far.


Excerpt of my story today on gulf fishermen and the oil industry:

Wilbert Collins, still harvesting oysters at 72, said there have been plenty of smaller spills that no one made a fuss over. He said he knows very well what it's like to eat an oyster that's been hit with an oil spill.

"You just taste the oil. It stays in there a couple of weeks," he said at the emergency claim center. The word from inside was that BP would give $2,500 per fisherman as an advance on any future claim. Just show some paperwork, some trip tickets, something to establish one's credentials as a fisherman.

What no one can provide, though, is any peace of mind right now. The oil this week has started to hit the grass in the outer marshlands. Meanwhile, there is the great unknown of the chemical dispersants that have been used to break up the oil.

"The medicine they're spraying on there, we don't know how bad it is," Collins said.

Shrimper Thomas Barrios chimed in: "Is our kids going to get cancer and all that? Is it going to make people sick?"

Martin Folse, owner of an independent TV station called HTV, in Houma, has toured the spill by helicopter and shown long stretches of unedited footage revealing the oil already touching some of the islands west of the Mississippi. As grave as the situation is, though, he casts no blame.

"I can't sit here and criticize oil because I live in an area that oil has built. But seafood has built it, too. It's two very powerful industries that has been affected at one time," Folse said. "It's like watching two brothers fight. You can't pick a side. You gotta work with both sides."

At an outdoor bait stand on the road along the bayou, Randy Borne Jr., 30, had been looking forward to making a little money in his second year in business. But the charter boat captains have had so many cancellations because the authorities have closed the federal waters to fishing. That means the captains aren't buying his bait. Life is tough at the bottom of the monetary food chain.

He was getting ready to go to the new claim center, but ran into a snag: No paperwork.

"The W-2 form, I sent it off for my food stamps," his wife, Casey, 22, told him.

"You sent off a copy," he said, hoping.

"No," she said.

Tension flared. Some panic. He stomped off.

She said to a reporter, "I'm scared that it will come."

The oil, she meant.

"Right now we're not making much as it is."

She and Randy retreated inside their home. Outside, deckhand Clerville Kief III, whose grandfather had founded the hardware store in Galliano, smoked a cigarette and pondered the calamity.

"You're never going to stop human error," he said. "We don't got nothing against the oil industry around here. We need petroleum products in order for us to operate."

Randy Borne eventually figured out a plan -- to show the BP people the trip tickets, the documentation of every time he's been out in the marsh catching shrimp.

The Bornes and Kief then climbed into a battered red pickup to race up the road to the claim center. Just before pulling away, Randy Borne jumped out of the truck and returned to shake the reporter's hand.

"Four or five nights I've had no sleep," he said, and apologized as if he had seemed rude.



By Joel Achenbach  |  May 20, 2010; 8:34 AM ET
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Down on the bayou (and the Mississippi River)
Next: Oil spill a lot more than 5,000 barrels a day


I like hearing from people who are directly affected.

Posted by: Yoki | May 20, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Yes, that makes it truly real.

The front page story in the Charlotte Observer this morning is that BP has had 10,000 suggestions about how to handle the problem. Surely some of them will work.

Posted by: slyness | May 20, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Wasn't it Tip O'Neill who said that all politics is local? Not only that, but it seems that all politics is personal, to the extent that if it's not happening to me (directly or indirectly), then it's not happening at all to anyone else. Reminds me of Inhofe and his ilk bloviating that global warming is a myth.

Ivansmom, do you think you could steer one or more of your tornados in Inhofe's direction? He could wind up in Kansas, which wouldn't be a bad thing for your State.

Of course, like in the aftermath of Katrina, there are probably those who would state that these people who are suffering brought it on themselves, primarily because they chose to be fisherman instead of becoming brain surgeons.

Posted by: -ftb- | May 20, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, Joel, for allowing us to eat vicariously. I must note that for those of us not breakfasting in New Orleans this morning, the final picture borders on cruelty.

Posted by: Ivansmom | May 20, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

I love the gastronomical reporting. Man, that's real dedication. You know, when a fellow will risk his LDL levels just to get the story. Although I am still reeling somewhat from the unfortunate inclusion of the term "rabbit." I am attempting to fool myself into believing that this is an obscure Creole expression for crustaceans.

But, alas, I suspect that not to be the truth. Which highlights the excellent point made by Ms. Earle. As fuzzy warm-blooded (well, most of us) mammal-types we really do have a bias towards creatures that share some of these characteristics. And it isn't limited to this disaster.

I have read many articles over the years discussing the relative success of "Save the Whales" compared to "Save the Nudibranchs." Indeed, it seems that this bias is so deep that the only way to get enthusiasm for preserving lifeforms of the "cold slimy and kinda icky" phylum is to argue that their loss will eventually affect animals that we actually, you know, care about.

As for your article, as I said yesterday I think it is outstanding. I believe Ivansmom mentioned that it highlights your unique ability to combine science and human interest. Well worth, in my opinion, the cost to the Washington Post of sending you down there.

Which is something I hope they realize when the auditors question all that seafood on your expense report.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | May 20, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

You know what I love about that bottom picture (Ivansmom is correct about its cruelty)? In the lower left the smallest corner of a reporter's notebook. Wasn't meant to be in the frame, I'm sure. But there it was.

Very nice piece on the seafood and oil, Joel.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | May 20, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I think it most intriguing that the Teapublican Rand Paul won in the Kentucky primary, (of all places because of the amount of transfer payments from the Fed Govt to that state).

It is Paul that suggests that businesses should not be taxed. It is a business BP that is costing the people--both privately and as a community--so much money in the Gulf.

What is it with folks (re:Whitman and nucular energy on the Post front page) argue about why business and large companies are better or not based on safety measurements in cases where there haven't been accidents. Three Mile Island is still synonymous with the concept of a BAD IDEA.

At the end of the proverbial day, there is a likelihood that something will go drastically wrong with all these great energy generation projects involving nucular and fossil fuel and, in that case, the federal and state governments (meaning the people) are going to foot a portion if not all of the bill when the private companies cry "MOMMY!"

The fact that Paul's timing is so bad, beyond his snarkiness, AND he gets elected by anyone to run for a national post is beyond me. How stupid are they done in ol' Kentuck? To be fair, Paul hasn't won the seat ... not yet.

Posted by: russianthistle | May 20, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Still Life With Reporter's Notebook ...

Come on, there are no accidents in these pictures ...

For techies only: Graphic on how the well was designed, with possible flaws annotated:

Posted by: joelache | May 20, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Ah, dining vicariously through better reading. The powers of Mr.A's pen never cease to amaze me.

I must report that a three hour roundtrip drive on Rt.11 through the valley was a delightful way to start the day. Ground fog yielded to glorious vistas of newly plowed fields. Sun slanting on peonies and roses in farmhouse yards. Oldtime fiddle on the box. Wish you'd all been there. (Repeat tomorrow to pick up hopefully healed car.)

Haven't I been grousing about those dispersants for weeks? Now the EPA tells BP to cease. Hope it's not too late.

Posted by: talitha1 | May 20, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Padouk has a very good point. What separates the merely adequate reporter from the great one is the willingness to follow up the Thibodeaux one night with the dark gumbo and taste plate the next night. Your average reporter would have simply phoned it in after the Thibodeaux, knowing he had reached saturation. But the great reporter goes above and beyond, sacrificing personal safety and making the stretch, going for the marinated crab claws AFTER the shrimp remoulade and the jambalaya, when mortals made of lesser stuff would have stopped, and tumbled over in the fetal position.

ftb, you are correct in your citation of Tip O'Neil.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | May 20, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Hey, weed, is "Teapublican" your coinage? I like it very much.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | May 20, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I believe so, mudge.

Posted by: russianthistle | May 20, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

All through the food descriptions of the opening paragraphs, I was thinking, "beignets, beignets" -- and then I was rewarded after all the bad news about the oil by that lovely portrait of fried dough and sugar--yum. On a plate, even. I never got that formal at the Cafe du Monde -- we took ours away in paper bags. I was like, "I'll just eat one now, and save the rest for later." And ten minutes later I had powdered sugar all over me and was thinking what would be considered a decent interval before our next beignet fix. There's no question that sugar is an addictive substance, and some of us are more susceptible to its lure than others.

Thanks for all the great reporting, Joel--you've earned all your New Orleans rewards. Thanks for sharing those experiences, too...

Posted by: kbertocci | May 20, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

That diagram of the oil well reminded me of the design of the solid rocket boosters used with the space shuttle in that both structures are intended to contain and focus very high-pressure gasses. Heck, that diagram even highlights the potential weaknesses of the joints and the use of O-rings. In other words, to me, these things resemble upside-down inside-out rockets. And should probably be treated just as carefully.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | May 20, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

kb, that story sounds just like one from Marion Berry.

Posted by: russianthistle | May 20, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I'm not getting too het up about Rand Paul. First, there are the numbers- Dem primary voters outnumbered Reps by more than 150,000. Both the first and second place finishers on the Dem side garnered more votes than RP. Then there is the candidate himself. Once folks begin to hear more about his wackier ideas, his star will fade. What will be interesting will be to see how much and how long the Rep establishment supports their party's man. Watching him on the Maddow show last night trying to not answer direct questions with filibustering and straw men didn't enhance his image as an outsider, quite the reverse. Dodge, weave, and spin seemed to be the name of his game, pretty standard polspeak.

Posted by: kguy1 | May 20, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

This reminds me that I need to visit the Lousiana Kitchen in Bethesda ASAP.


Posted by: -bc- | May 20, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Oh my dear, dear RDeee, the nudibranch or sea slug is a wonderous class. Jacques Cousteau, of Calypso fame, is among the first to see and document these sea-whimsies!

Now, saving a slime mold would be hard work.

In biodiversity bizzez, the term is telegenic charismatic micro or mega fauna. (TCMi-MeF

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | May 20, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I went to a training course in Houma, LA once. (Included was practice jumping off an oil rig in the prescribed manner to survive the plunge, although we only had to jump off 50' platform, not 100-110'.)

After checking in, ordered a pizza with shrimp on it; it came quickly; no problem. Later in the week stopped at a bar and bartender set basket of fried frog legs in front of me. "What did I do to deserve this?" I asked. "Happy hour," he shrugged. "My 'goodness' these are delicious! Where did you get these?" "Where did I GET them?? I gigged 'em myself, this mornin'!" Good times.

Thanks for the link to graphic, Joel. Seems like a high number of casings in there to me. Some wells only require fewer.

Posted by: Jumper1 | May 20, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

"Teapublican" I like it, Weed!

Got a call from some conservative organization this morning. The male caller started with Kagan's lack of experience and Obama wanting to enact his agenda. I informed him that I support said agenda and hung up. I should learn not to pick up the phone when caller ID is not specified.

Posted by: slyness | May 20, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

kguy, your analysis of Paul on Maddow (and otherwise) is spot on!

Posted by: talitha1 | May 20, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

bc ??? early Sunday brunch?

Posted by: russianthistle | May 20, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Oh CP - I agree. I think sea slugs are way cool. But then, I came from the Pacific Northwest and learned to appreciate the wonderfully weird stuff living in Puget Sound long ago. And that you share this aesthetic speaks well of you.

Alas, it is my experience that this is a minority view. Getting your child a fuzzy little kitty will, in general, be met with greater enthusiasm then acquiring a cute wiggly sea slug.

And thanks for providing that technical term for this bias! Now I will be even *more* popular at cocktail parties.

Assuming I ever get invited to another one.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | May 20, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

A great kit, Mr. A. Merci!

Good day, y'all.

A total of 8 oil and NG platforms in the G of M have suspended operations due to the oil spill.

As to respecting aquatic life, I publicly apologize to pond scum for equating it with selfish, sexually depraved humans. I shall seek out a new term.

Posted by: MsJS | May 20, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

"The Oil Drum" website stays on top of things.

I think yellojkt is right. If BP's solution is dilution, the impact will likely be spread over much greater areas and volumes than without the use of surfactants, and will likely kill subsurface life in a milder degree yet larger area and volume, the extent of which is not known. Yet there will be less to "clean up" because there will be nothing to do to remedy the situation. BP will likely fight in court to avoid paying for loss of wildlife and fishing catch spread over several years; it will be less directly provable in court.

Posted by: Jumper1 | May 20, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

Vast White House coverup of the oil spill. Plus, there's reports of cell phones being seized, etc. Joel needs to watch out--some government or BP agent might poison his seafood and zap his laptop. Better write everything in #2 pencil.

And here, from the epicenter of the evil science-government Establishment, a news item on oil and the Dead Zone. The normal Dead Zone that materializes every year.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | May 20, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

There's been an oil spill? God, those White House coverup people are good!

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | May 20, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

Someone please remind me I have a rant to post once I get home.

Thank you. *fuming*

Posted by: Scottynuke | May 20, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

New Scientist this week has a special report on denial. Articles:
"I am a sceptic, but not a denier" by Michael Shermer, whose books I need to check out. Forthcoming is "The believing brain".
"Whose Conspiracy: the causes they fight may be different, but scratch the surface and all denial is essentially the same" by Debora MacKenzie
Box: "How to be a denialist"
Another Box: "Manufacturing doubt: If flat-out denial isn't an option, spread doubt instead. It works wonders for big business, argues Richard Littlemore" of the DeSmogBlog
"Giving Life to a lie: In the battle for hearts and minds, a plausible falsehood too often trumps the truth"
"Don't mention the d-word: Michael Fitzpatrick argues that branding your opponent a denier is a convenient way of ducking difficult questions". Dr. Fitzpatrick is a physician and author of "Defeating Autism: a damaging delusion"
"The Truth Will Out: denialist movements can be beaten. Patient rebuttal is a powerful weapon, says Michael Shermer"

I've gotta take this stuff to heart. Still, I think I'm entitled to sell the dirty dishes, tablecloth, and foot-washing towels from the Last Supper to that guy who thinks the Grand Canyon is a product of Noah's Flood.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | May 20, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Beignets. You had to show beignets.

I was up late security patching servers and beeped early to deal with interface issues unexpectedly occurring due to the reboots. Worked from home until 10:30. Came in thinking about nothing but doughnuts . . . . And you have to show something exponentially better and unatainable! Cruel indeed.

Posted by: -dbG- | May 20, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Who wants coffee from DD?

Posted by: -dbG- | May 20, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, I heard from my dentist's mother's hairstylist's cousin whose brother-in-law is the uncle of a White House kitchen assistant that one of the servers spilled an entire gravy boat's worth of salad dressing at the state dinner. It splattered all over and when the server tried to cover and blot it with a table cloth it just made things worse.

I understand why the White House wants to keep it quiet after the Salahi flap at the previous state dinner. One more slip up like that and no one'll ever want to attend again.

Posted by: MsJS | May 20, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

dbG, DD coffee is fine, but I'm in the mood for a yellow can of Cafe du Monde, chickory and all. Fortunately, the folks at LK take care of that for me.

RT, can't do brunch there this week, but I may roll by one evening soon. Let you know if I do.

If I have to, I'll rinse my shrimp & oysters off as well as I can, too. This po boy likes his po boys.


Posted by: -bc- | May 20, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

*missing stitches laughing at MsJS's post*

Posted by: talitha1 | May 20, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Hey folks, a live spillcam!

Posted by: MsJS | May 20, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Hoo boy.

Another possibility is that surfactants may somehow decrease the ultimate sea life loss. If it increases transport into the Gulf Stream dilution may mitigate it. I doubt anyone knows. I sure don't.

Posted by: Jumper1 | May 20, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

As already stated, anticipating re-reading JA's stuff in April.

Mr. F's brother just won a major award (not a leg lamp) for wetlands restoration
A lifetime of work to have 48 miles of stream channel restored. He does gorgeous work, but it makes thoughts of the task ahead in the gulf that much more daunting.

The Environmental Law Institute is hosting a panel on the Oil Spill Liability Framework on the 24th from noon-1400. Too late to get a seat but they are accepting call-in reservations today.

RD-I used to love to eat a certain mammal but have given it up, along with Chinese shrimp, in solidarity with boodlers whose sensibilities and judgement matter to me. Sigh, it's on the spring menu of a restaurant I've longed to try. Poor me, Memorial Day weekend we'll be eating tapas at our neighborhood tequila bar instead. The boss can't do all the dirty jobs.

Posted by: frostbitten1 | May 20, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

New kit

Posted by: talitha1 | May 20, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Don't think this has been posted yet:

Campbell Brown leaving CNN, saying that the she does not have the stomach for what seems to be required now for prime time "news" settings. Italics are mine.

Posted by: CollegeQuaParkian1 | May 20, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

RD, I look at that diagram, and I think plumbing - o rings/pressure fittings, etc.

Sure, they make Shuttle SRBs using that way, too.

But like anyting else, if you cut corners and leave a weak spot, nature has an uncanny way of finding it sooner or later.


Posted by: -bc- | May 20, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse


I heart beignets!

And Coop's Place is the shiznit. Some of the greatest food I've ever had the pleasure of eating. I wonder what'll happen to Cajun cuisine when there's nothing edible to be harvested from the Gulf...

Posted by: Egadman | May 20, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

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