Thursday, May 06, 2010

Be Wary of the National Media

from Although their livelihoods depend on knowing where the action is in the Mississippi River delta, charter fishing captains in Venice have never been so happy to bring their fares back empty-handed.

Angling for a big story, news reporters from around the world have been chartering boats to check out aerial reports of oil washing ashore from the massive Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

A closer look has nearly always failed to substantiate the possible sightings, though reports of oil hitting the Chandeleur Islands were confirmed Thursday.

"I got more oil leaking out my boat's exhaust than they got in the west Delta," joked charter captain Brent Ballay.

Ballay and a couple of other captains took a 30-mile trip in and around Southwest Pass on Thursday morning to check out a news report of oil coming ashore there.

"The water's crystal clear and beautiful," he said, sitting on a dock at the Venice Marina. "There's no oil anywhere."

What they did find was brown foam along the current line, where fresh water meets salt water.

The foam is a natural phenomenon caused by decomposing vegetation bubbling to the surface, said David Ballay, Brent's father who founded the marina in the 1980s and sold it in 2002.

"Looking down from a plane, you might think that's oil, but it's not," David Ballay said. "I'll go put my sandwich out there on those booms, smear it around and eat it. That's how confident I am that there's no oil there."

Concerned about the spill's effect on the charter fishing industry, Brent Ballay said he has stopped taking people out to look for oil.

"We're just shooting ourselves in the foot by doing that," he said. "I'd rather take someone out with a camera to show people all the fish they can catch instead of all the death and destruction that we aren't having."

"There's the real story, right there," he added, pointing to a man stepping off a charter boat with a huge bucket of redfish and speckled trout.

That has been an all too uncommon sight during what is supposed to be the busiest time of year for charter fishing.

"We've had a tough time getting people to come down because of all the negative publicity," charter capatin Jeff Fuscia said as he filleted a red fish with an electric knife.

Fuscia said he saw a national TV news report about oil hitting the coastline Wednesday night.

"I thought, 'That's news to me, and I'm down here,'" he said. "I don't want to downplay it because there's a lot of oil out there; it just hasn't hit the coast."

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