The BP Oil Spill and the End of Empire, Louisiana

Memorial for “all that is lost,” Grand Isle, LA, 2010. Photo by Andy Horowitz.

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The BP Oil Spill and the End of Empire, Louisiana

by Andy Horowitz
Southern Cultures, Vol. 20, No. 3: Southern Waters

"'Hey, I can survive, I'm a survivor. You see that Survivor on TV? That ain't nothing.'"

Karen Hopkins lives in Grand Isle, Louisiana, where she manages Dean Blanchard Seafood, one of the largest seafood processors in the state. Before the BP oil spill of 2010, she recalled, “a typical day would be about five nervous breakdowns.” That is because Dean Blanchard typically bought between thirteen and fifteen million pounds of shrimp a year. For Hopkins, that meant: “You have three trans-vac suction machines working. You have three crews in three different staging areas unloading boats that are waiting in line, and you have three men coming in with shrimp tickets from three different boats at the same time, and you have people waiting in your office to get paid for their catch. The phones are ringing off the hook because you have fishermen who want pricing and . . . you have processors who are competing for your product and they’re trying to jack you out of some money because they’re trying to lower the price or they tell you that these shrimp weren’t pretty enough.  You have to deal with them. And there’s only one of you.” Before the spill silenced the phones and emptied the office, turned off the suction machines and docked the boats, that was a typical day, and Karen Hopkins loved it.