Reporter's Notebook: Fishermen Left With Nothing To Do But Scout Oil

Fisherman in Southern Louisiana tell ABC News they oil spill fears.

JUNE 16, 2010 — -- For decades, the charter fisherman in Venice, La., have made their livings taking groups of tourists out on trips where they'd haul in on a typical day hundreds of speckled trout, the catch of choice in the region.

But since the devastating explosion on the BP oil rig in April, the boats of these seasoned captains have instead been filled by media as fishing tourists cancel their charter bookings and members of the press clamor for a chance to see the damage the oil is wreaking on the coastal habitats.

During my recent two week trip to Louisiana for ABC News, I spent many of my days on these boats, sent out to survey how different islands and marshlands were coping as the oil lapped up on their shores.

But even more moving than the thick gobs of oil were the captains who stood beside me witnessing the destruction, distraught that the very fishing spots they'd grown up visiting are slowly being destroyed.

One captain was even moved to tears as his son, who had tagged along for our ride, asked innocently, "Daddy, is that the oil y'all are talking about?"

And it was.

I saw the oil so thick that the captains of our boat had to get out and push us from the grip of the substance.

I saw birds flying overhead, unaware that their usually white stomachs were now stained brown with crude oil, and lethargic porpoises, not diving in and out of the surf like they had been just a few days earlier but instead sluggishly swimming through the slick forming on the water's surface.

Later that very same day, I saw those birds getting cleaned at a local bird rescue center, going through an arduous one-hour process that would rid their delicate feathers of the sticky, oppressive oil.

Several of the boat captains spoke to me about their thoughts on the spill only after my work was done, too polite to risk getting in the way of my camera man shooting the ribbons of oil or zooming in from afar on the colonies of oiled birds, helpless and growing frantic as they became unable to fly.

They told me, always referring to me fondly as "M' am" or "Miss Emily," that they were grateful I was there to tell their story, but were worried about the day that my colleagues and I would leave the area to move on to whatever the next big story is.

"Without you, what will we all do?" one captain asked me.

Without fishing and without the security of chartering boats for media and researchers, they'll be out of work.

Twenty miles away and back on dry land, the Venice community still shows signs of the devastation they suffered during Hurricane Katrina, nearly five years ago. Deserted houses still bear spray paint pleading for FEMA's help and asking for water.

"Hurricanes are bad enough," Stanley Borden, a commercial fisherman, told me one night. He's been fishing since he was a kid, for about 40 years, and now says he's worried he won't be able to teach his grandson the family business.

Other locals say they already know the spill will be much worse for them than the aftermath of Katrina. The total damages of the oil leak, they worry, will not be known for years, whereas the toll the hurricane took was evident immediately in torn off roofs and flooding.

Besides from the obvious affects on wildlife, business owners scattered along Highway 23, the main drag in Venice that lets cars off into various fishing marinas, say they'll have nobody patronizing their stores once the fishing is destroyed.

One hardware store owner, who asked to be called Ray, said that the day the fishing stops, is the same day he'll lock his door for good.

Back out at sea, captains told me that they're not interested in trading their fishing life for a life of touring the oil damage, saying that they want "nothing to do with the oil."

When I pressed them to tell me what else they can do, none of them had answers.

"Right now," one captain said, "I'll clean the oil off my boat."