Resilient New Orleans Residents Adjust to Changing Seafood Industry
NEW ORLEANS — From a helicopter, it is easy to see the 61-mile wide coral reef jutting out of the murky Gulf of Mexico. Plumes of oil swirl like a Chiaroscuro painting. It is, of course, sediment with the oil 400 feet below the surface. The impact on local fishermen has been catastrophic, but the spirit of New Orleans is indomitable.
New Orleans has survived war, floods, hurricanes and the Ricky Williams trade. At first, local fishermen weren’t sure how they would survive this latest blow to their maritime industry.
“BP established a fund to compensate us, but it wasn’t dollar for dollar,” Louis Franklin said through a mouthful of chewing tobacco. “It wasn’t like this was a lucrative business in the first place, but imagine someone cutting your paycheck thirty, forty percent and getting paid once a month, on top of that. I really thought it was over for my family.”
That’s where famed New Orleans chef Jamie Thibodeaux comes in. After surveying yet another oily catch of fish, Thibodeaux took some spices he had laying around, bourbon and other ingredients that he wouldn’t disclose and he cooked the fish anyway.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I don’t know what the medical implications of eating fish soaked in petroleum are, but it tasted fantastic and I doubt its worse for you than McDonald’s.”
He quickly ran to his blog and typed in a now legendary local recipe, which spread like wildfire. Fisherman took to their boats again with renewed fervor looking for fish that they had rejected the day before.
“A lot of people are put off by the tumors,” Thibodeaux said, “but they’re the tastiest part. It’s like a pocket where seasoning collects. And the tuna we’re catching now has its own sort of teriyaki seasoning. Again, some people don’t care for that idea, but tuna was notoriously full of mercury before the spill, and that wasn’t a deal breaker so I don’t see why this should be.
“We’ve seen a serious impact on the dolphin community. Dolphins and whales have been washing on the beaches already dead, which makes it easy for fisherman to catch them. We clean and smoke and with the dispersants and the petroleum, they don’t decay like normal fish. The bacteria can’t grow on them, so we’ve been able to make a sort of fish prosciutto. It’s really cool.”
Louis Franklin agrees. ”Used to be when you went fishing too far off the coast, you had to fight hard to reel in your catch. The fish are too sick to fight now. You just throw them in the boat.”
But that’s the nature of this place. In an area where musical errors became an art form known as jazz, and a hapless football talk finally gained hap, it would be impossible to conceive of locals not adjusting to whatever fate can throw at them.
“I tried to cook one of those fish on the grill,” said a local resident in passing. “I almost burned my house down.”
By Thomas Moore