Nightly News   |  August 16, 2010

La. shrimpers tentatively cast nets

As shrimpers returned to the waters for the opening of the first commercial season since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster on Monday, some said the BP program that pays shrimpers to help clean up the oil has tied up too many boats for shrimping to be profitable. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We move now to Louisiana and the great unknown. Commercial shrimping season opened today in the Gulf of Mexico . This while 672 miles of gulf coastline are still tainted by oil. More than 28,000 people are working to protect the shoreline and wildlife and to clean up that mess.

WILLIAMS: Our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson was out on the water again today.

ANNE THOMPSON reporting: It's a welcome sight in Louisiana 's Bay ......west of the

shrimp boats trawling nets instead of boom.

Mississippi River: I'm happy to be back.

Mr. ACY COOPER: Acy Cooper says he's home.

THOMPSON: I just wish we had a few more shrimp, but this is the first shrimp I caught all year, so it feels good.

Mr. COOPER: His nets bear the patches of seasons past. Shrimping brings $1.3 billion a year to Louisiana 's economy and more than 14,000 jobs, much of the industry and its workers sidelined by the oil leak. Have you seen any oil?

THOMPSON: No, none. Thank God.

Mr. COOPER: That has got to make you feel good.

THOMPSON: It does. It really does.

Mr. COOPER: On this trip, his nets come up clean. No signs of oil as the fish are sorted from the shrimp with a net and then by hand. What scares the shrimpers isn't so much what they can see, but rather what they can't and the impact it could have for years to come. State and federal tests consistently find no contamination in the seafood. But in the mud of one of the passes, researcher Bob Kibler found benzine, a toxic component of oil.

THOMPSON: A hundred to a thousand times more than you would normally expect.

Mr. BOB KIBLER: Today Matt O'Brian 's shrimp dock stands empty. He says the BP program that pays shrimpers to help clean up the oil has tied up so many boats there is not enough shrimp for O'Brien to make a profit.

THOMPSON: The vessel of opportunity program is going to cripple the industry.

Mr. MATT O'BRIAN: But the gulf seafood industry gets the presidential seal of approval. During his weekend getaway to Florida 's panhandle, President Obama swam in the water and assured Americans the seafood is safe to eat. The fishermen hope he has more pull with consumers than tourists, who have yet to follow the president's lead back to the coast. Here in the Venice marina there is still plenty of concern. First of all, there is no date yet to begin bottom kill on the well that started all this trouble. And while this is a good day for shrimpers, for oystermen and for charter boat captains their lives remain very much on hold. Brian :

THOMPSON: Anne Thompson in the harbor there at Venice , Louisiana . Anne ,