This week marks the one year anniversary of the oil spill that tragically affected so many people who live and work along our beloved Gulf Coast. My friend Jeremy Craig was in the middle of filming a documentary on Gulf Coast erosion when the spill occurred (the same friend who directed the short film, Terrebonne). The week after the spill, Jeremy asked me to join him in capturing its nasty results. We documented different fisherman along the Louisiana coast. The photos from this post are from a particular evening when we “worked” our way onto a shrimping boat in Grand Isle.
Be sure to check out this feature on the Garden and Gun website.
Below is an essay which Jeremy wrote this past summer. At the time it looked as though it may be their final voyage. Now a year removed from the spill, its ultimate ramifications are unknown. The fishermen however are optimistic about soon returning to a life where they continue doing what they love.
Bon Voyage by Jeremy Craig
We were standing alone on the cabin roof of the Miss Andrea while, at the controls below, Captain Buff steered his 50-foot German trawler near enough to the buoy for his son TJ to secure the mooring rope to its casing. “This is the part of the fishing trip where they tie the city boys to the buoy in the middle of bay and go home,” Bryan said dryly. In another time and place, that abjectly horrific possibility might have crossed my mind—indeed, there was something unsettling about coming upon a buoy floating alone in the darkness of a vast and empty sea. But the last several hours aboard Buff’s boat hauling shrimp, drinking cheap beer and listening to a wacky mix of classic rock and adult contemporary with his beguiling crew, had me feeling perfectly comfortable. What was there to worry about? After all, this was the man who, unbeknownst to Bryan and me, had discreetly welcomed us and our equipment aboard even though our contact Dave hadn’t given him the heads up about “the plan” for us to join him. (This became public knowledge mid-voyage—the fact that Dave didn’t have a nickname should have tipped us off.)
Bryan and I were in Grand Isle working on a documentary about coastal Louisiana, an environment and way of life that was eroding into the gulf at the rate of a football field every forty-five minutes—and that was before millions of gallons of harmful oil began suffocating its beaches, marshes and bayous. Having spent the day drinking our way around the island (hey, “when in Rome…”), we were told that if we wanted to get out on the water, to head to the dock at the eastern tip of the island, that we’d be allowed aboard a shrimping trawler heading out into the bay at dusk. Although we greeted these vague instructions with skepticism, we went anyway and, looking back, I’ll be forever grateful that we put aside our reservations and did as we were told—I’ll never forget that night aboard the Miss Andrea with Buff and his anachronistic crew.
I was sad to learn that just days after this extraordinary trip, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries closed down fishing in the zones around Grand Isle. And at the time of this writing, there’s no telling when Buff will again drop the nets of the Miss Andrea—it could be a year, it could be decades. For 65-year old Buff, who was born and raised in Grand Isle, who dropped out of middle school to start a forty-two year career of shrimping, the distinct probability that the oil spill could forever affect his livelihood and alter his way of life is worse than the idea of being stranded on a buoy in the middle of the night—unfathomably worse.
These are Bryan’s poignant images of one night spent working on a shrimp boat—my very first, quite possibly one of Buff’s very last.