The marina of this Mississippi River Delta community usually teems with fishermen, oystermen and shrimpers. But the scene on Monday afternoon fell far short of that. Only a single crew could be seen filling crates with plump blue crabs freshly pulled from the bays to the east, which is among the few stretches of nearby water where oil hasn’t been found. Men sat on stools outside the marina’s shop, sipping cold beers in the humid air. “There’s nothing else to do,” says Shawn Encalade, 47, a boat welder, looking out at rows of marooned vessels.
The worst oil spill in American history is being measured in environmental and economic terms — especially given the threat it poses to Louisiana’s $2.4 billion seafood industry. But the cultural toll must also be considered. The disaster may signal the end of Louisiana towns like Phoenix and Point a la Hache, which hug the Mississippi River and comprise one of the state’s largest stretches of African-American fishing communities.
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On Monday afternoon, Clarence Duplessis wasn’t on a boat fishing. He was dressed in a dapper gray suit, testifying before a Congressional subcommittee’s special session in St. Bernard Parish, a New Orleans suburb about an hour’s drive north from Phoenix. “We watch our livelihood and even an entire culture being washed away by crude oil and chemicals that no one knows the long-term effects of,” said Duplessis, 65.