State pushes plan to get fishermen 'Back to the Docks'

by Nathan Stubbs

State officials have proposed a new plan to BP they say will both mitigate claims and get fishermen back to work. State officials have proposed a new plan to BP they say will both mitigate claims and get fishermen back to work. Harlon Pearce, chairman of the the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board - a division of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries - helped draw up the "Back to the Docks" plan and has been its main advocate. The idea calls for BP to pay fishermen 30 percent over last year's average prices for their catch as an incentive to get them back to work. Pearce says BP has been receptive to the idea, but wants to hold off until after it successfully cuts off the flow of oil into Gulf.

"We really like the idea," Pearce says. "We've floated it past BP, it's been up and down a couple of times. The last comments we've had is that BP wants to wait to get the spill capped and then we get 70-80 percent of our waters open and then they're going to do it. That's the word I got from them last week."

"What it'll do is mitigate claims in the future," he continues. "You don't want to look at it like BP's paying 30 percent, you gotta look at it like BP's saving 70 percent, because if the guy's not working it's a 100 percent claim. And you also got to look at the guy that sells him ice, the guy that sells him groceries and fuel and the truckers and the processors, the distributors, the restaurants, you've sort of mitigated their claims as well at the same time. So the whole chain of supply is filled in. What really don't want to do is lose continuity of supply in the marketplace because all we need right now is for some imported product to come in, take the place of a product that we sell locally, and then it's hard to get back in that spot again."

Pearce says he helped devise the plan over the past two months after feeling the frustration from docked fishermen unable to work. The owner of Harlan's LA Fish, a wholesale seafood processor and distributor in New Orleans and a member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, Pearce notes the state has already seen an alarming dropoff in one of its vital industries. The number of commercial fishermen from May of last year to this year is down by 1,700 and harvested seafood dropped by 25 million pounds.

"What we want to do is draw a line in the sand," Pearce says.  "Tell BP, 'If you need 1,000 boats that's fine, let us know, but the ones you don't need, let's incentivize them to go back to work.'"