Marine Removal of Debris Caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

Photo by: Randy LeDuff/WAFB-TV
Photo by: Randy LeDuff/WAFB-TV

Commercial fishermen across the state say debris left behind by the 2005 hurricanes caused their business to hit a snag. They've found a solution, but it involves millions of dollars and hours of hard labor. About half a dozen fishermen are combing the murky waters of Vermilion Bay, just off the coast of Cypremort Point in St. Mary Parish. They're looking for anything and everything, large or small, that may be standing in the way of them and their catch.

The sun glistens off the coast of Cypremort Point. Just down bay, fishermen tend to their boats that sit idle on the choppy waters of Vermilion Bay. It appears to be a near-perfect day for fishing, but this Sportsman's Paradise has turned into a wake of disaster. A lone fisherman struggles to reel in Tuesday's catch, but these days, it's far from edible. "It's anything and everything you could imagine, from toilet seats to Toyotas," says Lee Richardson.

Two fishermen seem to have caught something large. A sonar tracking device tells them it's a tank, but it's just too large to tow. Commercial fisherman Jesse Vandendorre is on the same mission. He's snagged a large tree. It takes him a while to get it on board. When he does, his work is not nearly over. He's got to cut it down to size and cast his line for Mother Nature's next hidden obstacle, but Vandendorre is not frustrated. He's relieved. "At first, it was really bad because every time we'd run around, we'd break the wheel, shaft. It was bad on the boats and we lose our equipment on debris in the water," he says.

Richardson says commercial fishermen across the state lost millions of dollars to loose residential debris and construction materials that blew off oil rigs during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "Louisiana seafood supplies the entire nation with wide variety of species and our fishermen haven't been able to go back to work because the marine debris of every sort gets in their way," Richardson says.

Now, thanks to a marine debris removal program funded by Wildlife and Fisheries and a FEMA grant, they're getting it out of the way. With any luck, they'll hopefully soon be going back to work. To date, approximately 5,000 objects have been removed from waterways across the coast of Louisiana. However, the program cannot be successful without your help. If you see, snag, or hit debris in the water; the state is asking that you report it to the marine debris removal program.