Deprived of Livelihood, Gulf Shrimpers Work for BP Instead

"When they go out shrimping, shrimpers don't know how much they're going to make although there's the potential to make a lot," says Deborah Long, a spokeswoman for the Shrimp Alliance. "When they're working for BP, they know how much they're going to make."

Yet not everyone has benefited from BP's outreach to boat owners.

David Luke, owner of St. Michael's Fuel & Ice in Biloxi, Mississippi, says most of the boats in his dock have been contracted to work with BP, but none have been scheduled for assignments yet, and none have been reimbursed for filling up their tanks. Luke estimates that he has extended about $50,000 in credit for fuelling so far.

"I can't keep putting out fuel like that, not knowing if I'm going to get paid," says Luke.

Some Shrimpers Complain About Disorganization

One shrimper on Luke's dock, who did not want to be named, says he has been paying his crew of six a daily rate to remain on standby as he waits for orders from the oil giant. The shrimper says he usually catches $2,500 worth of shrimp on a good day, before expenses.

"It's a total mess," he says, complaining about BP's handling of the Vessels of Opportunity program. "It seems they're expecting us to finance this operation for them and then wait a month or two before we get paid. We're not those kind of businessmen. We sell our shrimp and get our money right then."

Shrimpers and dock owners along the Gulf Coast tell ABC News that BP has promised to pay anywhere from $700 to $3,000 per day to qualified boat owners, depending on the size of their vessels. Some trawlers have begun to assist with actual cleanups, by dropping booms into the water and dragging them slowly along to corral oil in thick layers.

Oil Cleanup No Substitute for Trawling

Despite these financial gains, people around the Gulf say the cleanup work is no substitute for shrimping, even though it has attracted the interest of many shrimpers.

"They see easy money but they really don't want to do that. They want to trawl for a living," says Allen Estay, owner of Blue Water Shrimp Company in Dulac, Louisiana, which buys fresh shrimp and freezes it for resale. "For some people it's bred into them. It's what they've done all their life."

Estay estimates that he has lost more than half of his business this year, because he has only been able to buy about 500,000 pounds of shrimp so far, when he should really have already bought 1.5 million. He adds that he has already met with a BP representative who promised monetary compensation if Estay can provide the necessary paperwork.

For Estay and others, however, it's not this year's financial survival they are worried about. It's what happens after BP's Vessels of Opportunities program ends.

"Our concern is what our future holds," says Rodriguez, owner of the Lady Joanna. "I'll survive, I have deep pockets," he says, adding that his family also owns other businesses, including a boat building company and a marina. "Not everyone is in the same situation."

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