Gulf oil spill: Grand Isle bemoans loss of its fishing derby
But on Saturday, toxic, oil-contaminated waters still surrounded the southern edge of this town, forcing the cancellation of the oldest fishing tournament in the United States -- the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo -- for the first time since 1928.
The island’s biggest event of the year was instead replaced by a one-day benefit music concert, Island Aid, drawing about 5,000 people instead of the 20,000 who usually show up for the three-day fishing tournament. To add further insult was the arrival of a thunderstorm that came onshore just after noon, dampening the mood.
A drive into town Saturday morning showed that residents and businessmen were still quite angry. “Cannot fish or swim -- how the hell are we suppose to feed our kids now?” read a sign.
“Welcome to Grand Oil -- home to the world’s largest oil spill,” quipped another. A yellow sign cracked a joke: “Oil spill special -- build a new home now! Save $10,000 or more.”
Terry Schladweiler, 55, who lives in Raceland, La., about a 65-mile drive away, said he has been feeling the pain economically at his home-improvement business, with his customers -- fishermen, shrimpers, crabbers -- all uncertain about the future.
“They don’t know what’s going to happen,” Schladweiler said.
While fishing is restricted on the side of the island facing the Gulf of Mexico, fishing was recently permitted on the estuary facing inland.
Raishde Thompson, 34, of Slidell, La., made the nearly two-hour trip from his home near New Orleans to come fishing at his favorite spot on Highway 1 just outside Grand Isle.
But at this inland spot, Thompson was having a rough morning. As thunderclouds from the remnants of the thunderstorm rolled in around noontime, he reeled in a small baby catfish.
He tossed it, attracting a small crab to grip the small catfish with its claws.
“All day, man. All day. Then everything you catch, there’s nothing but catfish.... I think they’re just able to adapt to anything,” Thompson said, affixing a headless shrimp as bait to his line. “Ain’t no reds. Ain’t no trout. I wonder where they went.”
Thompson said before the oil spill, he could catch his day’s limit of six redfish within several hours. But between 7 a.m. and noon, he had only caught one redfish.
“Now, it’s taking all day to get one or two,” Thompson said. “We won’t get any good fishing for years. Pretty depressing, you know? What can you do?”
Those who organized and attended the beach music concert -- which is intended to raise funds to promote Grand Isle as a tourist Mecca next year -- did their best to put a smile up.
“The people you see here today -- they’ve decided to stay,” said Anthony Christiana Jr., a deputy police chief of a New Orleans suburb, said as the rain fell.
“I lived through Katrina; this is nothing,” Shirley Higgins, 60, wearing a green poncho, said of the rain.
“There ain’t nothing stopping us,” said Michael Edwards, 30, of New Orleans.
His wife, Ashley, 26, and their son, Nicholas, 7, sat on a towel on the sand gazing at the shoreline.
It was blocked off by orange netting that was strung up as a fence to prevent people from going into the toxic water.
-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Grand Isle, La.
Photo: Ashley Edwards, 26, and son, Nicholas, 7, of New Orleans, sit on a beach in Grand Isle Saturday. The shoreline is closed off because of toxic oil contamination of the seawater. Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II / Los Angeles Times
Photo: A sign posted at the entrance of Grand Isle, La., on Saturday. Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Raishde Thompson, 34, has a rough morning catching fish near Grand Isle, La., on Saturday. It is his first time fishing since the April 20 oil spill. Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II / Los Angeles Times