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Gulf oil spill: Crews, fishermen race to protect the coast

April 29, 2010 |  1:36 pm

Oil_spill The front line in the fight to save the Louisiana coast could be found an hour’s boat ride offshore from the fishing town of Venice, where the fingerling tributaries of the Mississippi dump into the Gulf of Mexico.

About a mile from the turbulent waters of the Gulf Thursday morning, in a waterway called the South Pass, a pair of 30-foot work boats were sidled up behind larger crew boats. Workers in hard hats were passing long lengths of boom, or floating barriers, to the smaller boats, which would then ferry them out to the gulf. The workers did their job quickly and quietly; the only noise at times was from the idling engines and the sound of strong southerly winds whipping through the cane-covered wetlands. The lengths of boom resembled long strips of lifejackets: safety-orange colored, filled with buoyant foam, and covered in orange waterproof material.

When a work boat was filled to groaning with boom, it would head out toward the Gulf of Mexico, where workers were laying it out. A number of boom lines were visible around the mouth of the pass: one long line paralleled the south-facing coast of a small island. It looked inconsequential – and was even difficult to see at times from 50 yards away – as it was tossed around and pounded by white-capped, 4- to 6-foot waves.

In Venice, which bills itself as the fishing capital of the world, crew boats, which normally service the offshore rigs and platforms, were busy Thursday ferrying supplies and people to the big oil spill response ships working offshore. At the Venice Marina, a number of sport fishermen were pulling their boats from their slips and hauling them onto dry land, fearing the effects of the oil on their hulls. “They’re scared, really,” said Greg “Bubba" Ancalade, 19, a marina worker.

Still, sport fishing boats were heading out in the morning, filled with fishermen hoping to get in a few quality hours before things went bad for who knows how long. “I’m not concerned about our trip, but I’m concerned for the environment,” said Clay Bratton, 41, of Biloxi, Miss., as he prepared his 24-foot bay boat for a day hunting for redfish. “This environment’s taken a beating and it can’t take much more oil on top of it.”

---Richard Fausset, reporting from Venice, La.

Photos: Oil spill spreads in the Gulf of Mexico
Efforts to fight Gulf of Mexico oil spill are ramped up
Interactive: Burning spilled oil

Photo: Workers transfer oil containment booms from a truck to waiting boats at Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi, Mississippi, USA, on  April 29, 2010. Officials in Mississippi are making efforts to protect delicate ecosystems from oil spilling from a sunken rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: EPA/JOHN FITZHUGH