Parking at the Westwego Shrimp Lot used to be tough, especially with news crews greedily hogging up spaces with huge vans and satellite trucks.
CNN even set up a tent.
Now, as the great seafood scare of 2010 is under way, the gravel lot is sparsely populated.
Those who have been selling crab, shrimp, oysters and crawfish by the pound here for decades roundly blame BP for their loss. But they’re quick to pounce on the media for sucking the last bit of air out of their gills.
Roy Rivet, with Ruthann and Rob’s Seafood Unlimited, said the media has unjustly associated oil with his prime selection of seafood.
“They come out just about every day,” he said. “They got a different newscaster every day.
“It’s making a lot of people scared to buy the stuff.”
Death by oil or camera
Prices are already landing solid punches on the seafood selling business.
Rivet doesn’t need a steady column of reporters filling up spots in front of his booth.
After all, the oil started gushing almost two months ago. Why are news cameramen still flocking to his corner of Westwego?
“We wish it’d be all over with,” he said “We’re ready to get back to normal.”
But “normal” remains elusive.
April Michel, with Debbie’s Seafood, has been working at the Shrimp Lot for about 11 years. The ravenous horde of media has been poisonous to her livelihood, she said.
“They’re driving us crazy,” she said. “They’re feeding off our misery.”
Pain that plays
Telling their story to the world in its entirety would still be a nuisance, but the rampant over-exaggeration put a death grip on the seafood selling industry, Michel said.
Unfair reports have done as much damage to her livelihood as the oil has done to commercial fishermen. BP’s to blame, but the media has been a treacherous accomplice.
“Pain sells,” Michel said. “They’re running behind a story, I understand. Freedom of the press. But does it have to be at our expense?”
The governor shows up, and the media swarms. A senator pokes a head in, and the cluster forms. They’re broadcasting radio shows straight from the parking lot.
The effect is a killer. People are asking if there is oil in the coolers or fresh shrimp.
“That’s just crazy,” Michel said.
Some of the shops in the lot are closed up, and Michel wonders who will be next. Maybe everybody.
“We’re losing. We won’t be out here for interviews much longer,” she said. “I guess then we won’t have to worry about it.”
Exhaustion sets in
Most of the reporters are nice people, but still in the way, said Mary Ann Guidroz. In the beginning, it was unbearable.
She at least sees some silver lining in the onslaught of coverage now.
“The media is trying to tell people the shrimp and crabs are still good,” she said. “That’s the one good thing they’re doing.”
Frustration and irritability left a long time ago. Now the media presence is just exhausting.
Sell some shrimp, do an interview. Bag up some crawfish, smile for the camera.
Raymond Melerine, a commercial fisherman who also sells at the Shrimp Lot, has been worn out by the coverage. He’s been interviewed several times, and doesn’t even have one of the “pretty stands” on the lot.
“They’re coming here pretty regular,” he said. “People are getting tired of it.”
Editor Carlene Peterson is reporting from the Gulf oil spill for GateHouse News Service. You can reach her at email@example.com.