For a Fisherman's Wife, Oil and Water Don't Mix
After countless back-wrenching boat trips into the bayou and Gulf waters beyond, I was bleary-eyed the morning I wandered into the only restaurant along the one strip of gas stations and honky tonk bars that make up the Louisiana fishing village of Venice.
“I’m not putting up with this stuff anymore,” a female voice belted out. “I’ve got to protect my kids. Who knows what’s in the water out there. I’m tired of not getting any answers.”
This comment was of particular interest since I had returned the day before from a sobering boat trip to the mouth of the Mississippi, where oil was washing up on the shorelines. The Louisiana crude was emulsified like brown cottage cheese floating in the muddy waters where the Gulf meets the mighty Mississippi.
I quickly introduced myself to the woman in a baseball cap, sitting with a friend and her husband, a long time local shrimper turned oil clean-up man. He was on a BP gag order not to talk to anyone about what he was doing. But his wife wasn’t. Her name is Kindra Arnesen, and you don’t want to tangle with this feisty fisherman’s wife and mother scorned.
“I’ve tried for three weeks to get anyone around here to give me some solid information about what’s in the water or the air in this community. All I get is the run around, and it’s time for people to get answers. The oil companies have lied about this before, and I think they’re lying about it now. We need to organize to protect ourselves. And if no one else would do it, then I guess I will.”
Kindra explained that Venice and other communities of the bayou are not politically well organized. People stick to their own business, shrimpers, oilmen, charter boat captains. The area is sparsely populated, so that’s not a hard thing to do.
But this was different, she said. People had to organize because otherwise they’d never get any true information about what was going on around them.
Soon, the local council member, Marla Cooper, walked into the restaurant and agreed to have a meeting. It was tricky, she explained, because there are a lot of people with competing interests in the area who want different things. She worried about it getting out of control.
Kindra thought it was hogwash. “It’s not just our livelihoods b ut our kids lives at stake," she said to me later. "I think they care more about their jobs and the fish than they do about the kids around here.”
Here in Venice, oil and water have mixed for generations. Fishermen came first obviously, harvesting the rich seafood of one of the world’s greatest fisheries. But the oil industry grew quickly too, and it continues to provide jobs and income to many in this community ravaged by Katrina five years ago.
For Kindra Arnesen, though, the seemingly symbiotic relationship between fishing and the oil industry is illusory. She knows petroleum and gas are bad for the fishing grounds, and she knows they aren’t being told the whole story about its environmental impacts. And she is determined to get answers as oil erupts like a volcano a mile below the sea, slowly expanding its toxic path to the population along the shore.
“I’ve got the two most beautiful children in the world,” she said passionately. “If something were to happen to them, how could I look in those baby blues and say, Mommy didn’t know?”
There still are a lot of unanswered questions with this oil catastrophe in the Gulf. But I’d bet a steaming plate of barbequed shrimp that people like Kindra will get answers to a lot of them. Unfortunately it will take a while.