WEB EXCLUSIVE: Commercial Fishermen Protest BP in Bayou La Batre

As the sun slowly began to rise Wednesday morning over the waters of Bayou La Batre, local commercial fisherman manned their boats. But not to work.

With daybreak on the horizon, light began to shine upon what was taking place at the mouth of the bayou. Several boats had anchored across the channel, forming a blockade, denying access to vessels trying to reach the Mississippi Sound.

The operators of these boats were local fisherman protesting against BP’s payment procedures and out-of-state hiring practices.

At 5 a.m. a shrimp boat with “44 days still pumping: BP lied” written in neon-orange spray paint pulled up to a dock about 75 yards away from the blockade. Brent Buchanan, a Bayou La Batre native, stepped off the boat “with a message” and took a seat on fellow commercial fisherman Ray Foster’s shrimp boat.

Buchanan had been contracted by BP to aid in the clean up of the oil last month, but was only active for two weeks. Since being deactivated for a little over two weeks now, Buchanan said he knew something needed to be done.

“I sent in my invoice and they told me it would be 5-10 days before a check came,” Buchanan said. “I haven’t seen ‘nothin. You get a phone number, you get directed to an answering service and it just goes in a big circle from there,” Buchanan said with frustration in his voice.

Buchanan went on tell Lagniappe these actions were ultimately about getting people jobs.

“I’m not just out here for me,” Buchanan said. “Everybody needs work. Not just the ones that are out here today, but we’re standing for every commercial fisherman affected by the oil spill,” Buchanan said. “A lot of people didn’t want to show up. Afraid we would go to jail. But, hey, it don’t matter. Somebody’s gotta stand up and get some attention.”

Attention they got.

After Buchanan anchored up alongside the other boats, all eyes were fixed upon these local fishermen.

Two boats tried to pass through the Bayou, but the blockade prevented their departure. Their plan was working. However, their victory was short-lived.

Alabama Conservation authorities along with Bayou La Batre police asked the men forming the blockade to disperse or else they would be arrested. One man refused – Buchanan.

Buchanan’s boat was confiscated as he was handcuffed and walked to a squad car at 6 a.m; an hour after the protest had begun. The boats the blockade had prevented from leaving now glided smoothly through the opening of the bayou.

From the looks of things, it seemed as though Buchanan was about to take a trip “downtown.” But, he was released with only a ticket for interfering with police work.

While members of the community, including Buchanan’s wife and two sons, stood and watched all of this take place, State Rep. Spencer Collier, District 105, was there to “mitigate” the situation.

“Unfortunately, I felt something like this was going to happen,” Collier said. “Not this particular event, but you could just feel the tension.”

Collier said he understands the frustration this community is facing.

“When these fisherman are continuously seeing boats from Louisiana and South Carolina getting work, it’s easy to see where their frustration comes from,” Collier told Lagniappe. “Not being able to get work and provide for their families is the main source of that frustration.”

This article was originally published on Lagniappe’s website on June 2, 2010.