A fisherman pirate fights for his life in the bayou
Eric Tiser calls himself a pirate. He’s been in more bar fights than he can remember. He bears the scars of an especially nasty one when a cocky Cajun ripped off part of his nose with his teeth. Tiser says he still won that one.
A proud native American member of the Houma Tribe, Tiser says the toughest battle he’s been in is the one now with BP. He’s not sure anyone can win this fight. Many of his friends have been out of work during the oil disaster over the past three months, a time when many normally would be making the most money fishing during the year. Many are despondent and it’s torn apart some families.
To make matters worse, he says, many of his friends haven’t been able to get cleanup work with BP’s much touted Vessels of Opportunity program. His son, a military veteran who served in Iraq, can’t find work and had to leave the area. That really ticks him off. And you don’t want to get a big man like Tiser mad.
“I was born here and fished here all my life. I never thought anything like this would happen. BP has threatened our way of life. But the least they could do is hire fishermen around here like me to clean it up. Instead a lot of outsiders are getting the work.”
Like most people here in the Louisiana bayou, Tiser lost pretty much everything he had in Katrina five years ago. His house, four boats, pretty much all his possessions. But he didn’t lose what he loved most; fishing the waters his ancestors survived on for generations. Now the oil has threatened it all. The BP well may be capped, but it’s still “a monster,” he says. Everyone here knows it’s far from being cleanup up. What really bothers him, he says, is that BP used millions of gallons of dispersants to hide it.
“They didn’t skim it, they dumped it to the bottom with chemicals. It’s not natural, and no one knows what’s going to happen to it when we start shrimping again.”
Tiser's greatest fear is a major storm will hit and blow the undersea plumes of dispersed oil droplets throughout the marshes. Birds are going to start dying by the thousands once the migrations start later this summer and fall, he says. Tiser’s already concerned about what is happening to the shrimp, He says after the oil spill, he pulled up ten times as many “milk shrimp,” white meat shrimp that his dad said was bad to eat. He doesn’t know why, but that was good enough advice for him to avoid it.
BP isn’t the only one polluting the bayou with crude right now. There are oil wells and platforms throughout the marshlands, poking through the ever-expanding canals like tumors sprouting from a diseased catfish. Some are abandoned wells, owned by oil companies gone belly up. These are called “orphan” wells. And although they are supposed to have lights to keep boats from running into them at night, many don’t.
One of them was hit by a barge at 1 am yesterday, causing a geyser of oil and gas to shoot up into the air near Barataria Bay. It's an area already hit hard by runaway BP oil. It was unclear how much oil and gas was leaking, but an eyewitness said workers laying boom around the marshes nearby complained their eyes were stinging from the poisonous spray spewing from the well.
News reports yesterday said authorities couldn’t reach the well’s owner to find out more about it. That doesn’t surprise Tiser. He says lots of oil wells are abandoned and are leaking. In fact, he claims he could go to virtually any of them and dig in the muddy bottom nearby to uncover a poisonous seep. AP reported earlier this month that 27,000 oil and gas wells may be leaking in the Gulf. And no one is checking.
But right now Tiser just wants to go back fishing. He pulls his boat out into Yellow Cotton Bay north of Venice looking for crab pots to feed his friends and family. Blue crabs cling to the wire traps, scrambling to hang on before they are dumped in the cooler for a meal later that night. Their soft shells make them one of Louisiana’s tastiest treats. Dressed on a bun or in a larger sized poor boy sub roll, it’s hard to beat.
Tiser points to the bay, a mix of Mississippi River and Gulf saltwater that didn’t exist 10 years ago. It was mostly marsh when he was growing up, wetlands that supported deer, nutria and gators that he hunted and trapped. It’s a sad tale everyone tells who grew up here. Before there were duck ponds. Now it's ocean. Like the oil it keeps coming in.
The sinking land and man-made oil pipeline canals have forever changed the wetlands. The Mississippi levies have stopped the natural flow of silt that is the life-blood of these marshes. It's vital to the ecosystem of the Gulf. Without it, they will die. And with them the lifestyle of those who live here.
For a self proclaimed pirate and fighting man like Eric Tiser, it’s a battle he can’t win.
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