Monday, June 28, 2010

Empire Falling

Empire, LA

June 10, 2010

“I was born and raised in surroundings and atmosphere most people can only dream of,” says E.J. Otero, the dock manager of Ocean Shrimp LLC, which is nestled in a backwater alongside the Bay Adams bridge in Empire, Louisiana. “You just wake up one morning and everything you know is gone.” Gone since the oil spill is 80 percent of his business, buying shrimp and packing them in trailers to be hauled to processing plants. Not only are there fewer places to shrimp, but many of the shrimpers are using their boats to help however they can to contain the oil. When he first heard about the disaster, Otero thought it wouldn’t affect the business, that it would be quickly closed and everything would be fine. Now he waits, living day to day with great apprehension over the increasing closure of viable places to shrimp. “This is pushing all the boats into one area, they’re corralled in one spot and wiping the shrimp out.”

The grandson and son of fishermen and a former fisherman himself, Otero has been running the dock here for 30 years. “Where do I go to find a job at 59?” he laments. “This is what I do. This is what I know. This is what I
want to do.”  He wonders about the long-term effects of the disaster, and whether there will be a shrimping season next year – or even in ten. He goes up the food chain of all the animals that will be harmed by the contamination of the wetlands, even the alligators who eat the birds who eat the fish who …and on and on. “To have everything become a black cloud,” he says, “I feel cheated out of the rest of my life. With no light at the end of the tunnel, they might as well close the door on Southern Louisiana. Because that’s what it’s all about: sportsman’s paradise.”

-Claire Layrisson

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