Gulf Expedition Finds No Oil, Plenty of Fish

Starting out in the morning at Joshua's Marina, Buras, LA, Bill Lindner (Bill Lindner Photography), Dena Woerner (Arkansas Dept. of Parks & Tourism) and Noel Vick (Traditions Media) check out their equipment and discuss the itinerary for the morning tour of the marshland area that surrounds Buras. Certain areas within that general area were untouched by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Capt. Ryan Lambert, Director Louisiana Charter Boat Association, Fishing Guide and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, Buras, LA, leads our guided tour of the marshlands in the Buras area. Capt. Ryan leads the charge on restoring the Louisiana coastline.
Not an unusual sight throughout the marshland channels, shrimp boats wait out the tides and temporarily shore-up to save fuel or to maximize their trips in between fishing and going to market.
Mixed reports of oil being washed ashore had our group searching for any signs of oil penetration onto the marshlands in Buras. While Buras did report getting 'hit,' the areas we explored remained clean and pristine and showed no signs of unhealthy water or burned out marshland.
Concern over losing marshlands due to the building of levees for flood control and dredging threatens Louisiana coastline more than the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. According to the National Wildlife Federation, 'Every 30 minutes, another area of coastland the size of a football field disappears.' These blotches of small grassland bogs will be awash with the next big storm that comes through, destroying valuable nesting and fishery habitat.
Capt. Terry Lambert, Fishing Guide in Buras, LA, guides us through the marshes and 'opens our eyes' to all the marine life that exists there. This particular area was still open to fishing during our trip. Capt. Terry was spot-fishing for some reds.
With redfish holding up close to the shoreline, some of the best fishing for reds is deep in the marshes, places only a seasoned captain like Capt. Terry knows.
Cautious, but knowing, Capt. Terry edges the boat to the areas he knows hold fish. Reds can be a bit jittery, so an electric motor is a must for the shallow locations and stealth requirement of marsh fishing.
Deep blue skies and flat calm help us to navigate and explore. But the searing Louisiana heat requires special precaution against sunburn and dehydration. Having a cooler full of water and iced tea is a must when fishing the marshlands.
Redfish is a staple fishery down in the marshlands, and they're plentiful, according to Capt. Terry.
A lot of people prefer the smaller redfish. As Capt. Terry put it "the big ones are for bragging, but the small one are for eating." Shrimp jig baits and spinner baits are among the offerings that redfish will take easily.
Oysters are a big industry in the Gulf. Louisiana alone, according to NOAA's 2008 stats, lead total landings of all the Gulf coastal states with 12,778,311 pounds. Capt. Terry holds up a typical cluster of oysters found in and around the marshlands of Louisiana.
Morning glories splatter the marshlands with color. Certain spots, so prolific, at first glance appear to be hatches of butteries.
Photographing and studying the marshland habitat helps raise awareness to the delicate balance between Nature's ability to replenish and man's ability to take away.
Back to reality. Barges, ships of all sizes and shapes, and cranes are present everywhere on the Mississippi River and the closer-lying marshlands to the river. They are part of the new landscape on the river. But the Deepwell Horizon oil spill put the entire state, Federal government and the oil and petroleum industry on alert and in a 'State of Preparedness' to react to the first signs of oil coming ashore.
Anchors away! It's difficult to imagine the magnitude, size and purpose of the machinery that actually supports the shipping and oil industry along the Louisiana coastline. But their size alone creates a sense of physical vulnerability.
Jack-up boats are seen everywhere along the Mississippi River. They're a mobile platform boat that's anchored onto the sea floor. They can be self-propelled or towed. Their unique design allows the actual drilling mechanism to be 'jacked up' on the poles and above the water to avoid the full-force of tidal movement, storm waves and current action from hitting against the drill. The poles allow the heavy force of wave action to be diffused by the poles rather that absorbed by the drill.
At the entrance to the South Pass, where the Mississippi River mixes with the Gulf, stands a white skeletal tower known as Eads Point Lighthouse. Constructed in 1881 it marks the outflow of the South Pass that was built then to allow big tankers and steamers access to the river with greater safety. Since its construction, it has saved millions of dollars for shippers, insurance companies, fishing and the petroleum industry.
Going Off Shore Leaving the Venice Marina, there was a shroud of gloom that hung over the marina that couldn't be explained. At the site of shrimp boats still tied up at the dock when they normally would be fishing, it was hard not to think about the livelihoods of so many that were affected by the worst oil spill in the history of the country.
Converted to 'Vessels of Opportunity,' and not to be left idle while they couldn't fish, many of the working fishing boats were employed to ferry supplies and workers back and forth between the marinas and staging boats along the marshlands and river. Booms were constantly being brought back in for cleaning and repairs.
Some boats awaited their marching orders for the next trip, but idle boats were a constant reminder of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Booms were deployed as quickly as possible to skirt and protect the marshlands from the impending oil landings. Certain areas in Buras seemed, at the time of this trip, to have escaped damage from the oil. Being prepared was half the battle, but the anticipation was and continues to be worrisome.
In some areas only clutches of grasslands remained, reminders of the shrinking wetlands. Before oil companies started dredging and creating 'straight-jacket' channels that cut-through the marshlands, the marshlands acted as a natural filter between saltwater and freshwater and held onto the nutrient-rich sediment that would be feed and sustain the marshlands. Now, tons of rich life-supporting sediment are sluiced away every year into the Mississippi and off the Continental Shelf leaving the wetlands vulnerable.
Swamp boats were more commonly being seen now with this oil spill event. Fast and easy to navigate, they were used as taxis to ferry workers and researchers back and forth between marinas, rigs and ships.
Where the Gulf meets the marshlands, booms were everywhere as the first line of defense against oil washing ashore. Fortunately, we saw no plumes only booms.
Work crews were apparent almost everywhere, certainly on the barrier islands, which would have been the first place the oil would have landed. Again, currents, winds and tides may have taken most of the surface oil east, with the rest being either evaporated or settled to the bottom.
Heading out into the Gulf, Bill Lindner (Bill Lindner Photography) perched himself on the bow to be the first to call out at any sightings of oil plumes. We saw nothing that day.
Dena Woerner, Communications Manager with the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, takes notes as we explored the Gulf. We were on the constant look-out for oil plumes, but were lucky that day.
Air traffic around the oil rigs was a constant during our entire time on the water. Helicopters and planes were conducting regular fly-overs searching for any signs of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.
In the one particular area that was still open, we tried our luck using some of Williamson's High Speed Vertical jigs. They produced great results.
Jigs are particularly effective on the fish that take shelter around the rigs. The bonitas seemed to fall for them every time, as Andy McDaniels, National Wildlife Federation, found out. The action was constant for Andy.
Not known just for their speed and strength, but the bonita pattern and color is absolutely beautiful, as Andy McDaniels found out.
The strength of these fish is amazing, as well. They do not succumb easily to be decked, and posing them is next to impossible.
Another common fish to the Gulf rigs is the amberjack. A schooling fish like most in the area, trolling a deep-lipped plug got the attention of one or two, otherwise nice eating fish. All our fish released.
Not as brilliant in color as the bonita, or necessarily as exciting to catch, they nonetheless, are a plentiful staple in the Gulf.
One healthy sign that not all the waters in the Gulf were affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, were the tell-tale pattern of birds hitting the water and chasing after the bait fish. With the surface clear of any oil plumes, bait fish were free to chase after plankton and other forage while themselves filling a niche in the food chain.
Back home, the house boats, in particular, are a reminder of busy Venice, Louisiana. While these times are worrisome over the future of the shrimp, oyster and fish industries in this part of the country, shrimp and oyster fishing, for the most part, are back to normal. Wherever that oil is now, it's obviously not out in the Gulf and the industry is once again active.