Gulf coast fishermen angry over oil claims ruling
By Leigh Coleman Leigh Coleman Sat Jul 17, 12:46 am ET
BILOXI, Mississippi (Reuters) – Fishermen in Mississippi say they are angry that under the terms of BP's $20 billion oil spill fund, money they earn doing clean-up will be subtracted from their claim against the company.
The fishermen reacted after Kenneth Feinberg, the federal official in charge of administering the compensation fund, announced the decision at a town hall meeting in Biloxi on Friday.
Some walked out of the meeting in protest, arguing it was pointless to work under the Vessels of Opportunity program, set up by BP to help clean up the damage from the deepwater leak that started in April.
Oil stopped flowing from the leak on Thursday.
"I am furious about this," said Tuget Nguyen, who works with family members as a fisherman in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
"If he takes away the money we are making from BP when we get our claims, then nobody is going to work for BP to clean up this oil and we will not rent our boats to BP either. It is not fair," Nguyen said.
Thousands of fishermen in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, out of work because federal authorities have closed much of the Gulf to fishing, are working for the Vessels of Opportunity program, skimming oil from the water and protecting coastlines.
Vessels of Opportunity "workers can file a claim, but we will subtract the amount they are paid from BP from their claim. That is how it has to work .... Of course you can file a claim. You must file a claim, but you cannot get paid twice," Feinberg told the meeting.
Fishermen can earn between $1,000 and $3,000 a day renting their boats under the program and individuals can earn upward of $1,400 a day. Charter boat captains can make even more.
The figures represent less than what could be earned at the peak of a shrimping season, curtailed because of the spill, but more than fishermen who have claimed against BP for economic losses have been paid.
As a result, the program has created division in some communities between those working on it and others still unemployed. Local fishermen also complain that outsiders have profited from the program at the expense of those who have lost their livelihood.
"This (Feinberg's ruling) means I am actually losing money because I have to pay my crew out of the money BP is paying me to clean up this oil," Larry Dossett from Biloxi said.
"If he only pays me the difference, I am in the hole. We are financially dead already."