Shrimpers, boat captains line up for BP spill claims

* Louisiana fishing community frets about its future

* Oil company paying up to $5,000 for short-term claims

* Grand Isle’s charter boat business takes a beating

By Steve Gorman

GRAND ISLE, La., May 12 (BestGrowthStock) – Ronald Polkey, a
sun-weathered shrimp boat captain from the Louisiana resort and
fishing hub of Grand Isle, should be out on the water working
his nets to bring in a day’s catch.

But with most of the region’s shrimping grounds shut down
due to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he was one
of dozens of local fishermen waiting in line at the town’s
community center on Wednesday, hoping oil giant BP will cut him
a check.

“We’re screwed this year for shrimp,” Polkey, 42, said
quietly in a thick Cajun accent. “I took all the nets off my
boat.”

London-based BP (BP.L: ) is the owner of the ruptured
undersea well that is gushing unchecked at a rate of 5,000
barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 litres) per day, swelling a
huge oil slick that threatens fishing grounds, beaches and
wildlife refuges along the Gulf Coast.

Fishing has been banned across a huge swath of Gulf waters,
and thousands of fishermen are being forced to choose between
staying idle or signing up to work on the oil containment
operation.

Polkey said he left a temporary job when BP offered to hire
him at $2,000 a day for spill mitigation work.

But a week later he is still waiting for the oil company to
put him to work, effectively required to stay put because he
already has filled his boat with BP-supplied fuel for the job.

“I feel bad. I can’t make any money,” he said.

Polkey said he frets about what the oil spill, spewing
uncontrolled from a ruptured wellhead since April 20, will do
to shrimp fishing in the long run.

“All my life, that’s what I do. That’s my living. My Daddy,
my brother, we’re all commercial fishermen … . I don’t know
nothing else,” he said.

Polkey waited for his number to be called in the muggy
sunshine outside the Grand Isle community center, one of
numerous sites set up by BP along the Gulf Coast to process
small, short-term economic loss claims.

Applicants are told to bring their recent tax returns,
identification, commercial licenses and boat registration with
them, and are promised a check for up to $5,000 within 24 hours
for bona fide claims.

“HELP PAY MAY’S BILLS”

The company has said applicants need not sign any waiver of
liability for future claims, a big concern earlier in the
crisis.

“If I have to waive my rights, they can keep the money,”
said Terry Vegas, 51, who showed up to submit a claim on behalf
of her husband, a shrimp boat captain who now works under
contract for BP for spill cleanup.

Vegas, an office administrator in town, said $5,000 pales
in comparison to the financial losses her family faces.

“It’ll help pay May’s bills,” she said. “I haven’t gotten
beyond today, because if you look too far ahead … ,” she
added, her voice trailing off. “Two years from now, three years
from now, we’re still going to be feeling the effects.”

Like many places along the Louisiana coast, Grand Isle is
still recovering from a series of devastating storms, including
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and back-to-back hurricanes Gustav
and Ike in 2008, which wrecked the town.

“Our entire infrastructure was wiped out. We had a lot of
flooding, and now this,” Vegas said.

With tourism to the island thrown back into a slump just
when the travel season should be heating up, charter fishing
boat operators are seeing their business take a beating.

“This is supposed to be the height, right now,” said Joel
Bradberry, 39, a charter boat captain.

The island has roughly 1,500 year-round residents, but
draws many visitors — 100,000 alone for an annual fishing
tournament called the Tarpon Rodeo.

Bradberry said that instead of booking trips for the usual
May-through-August season, “the only calls we’re getting are
cancellation calls.”

He stood in line for three hours to submit his claim. “I’ll
probably get paid this afternoon or tomorrow,” he said.

Investing

(Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Xavier Briand)

Shrimpers, boat captains line up for BP spill claims