GALLIANO, May 28 (AFP) - In the more than half a century that Oliver Danos has been fishing the waters where Louisiana's Lafourche bayou opens to the Gulf, he's never seen anything like it: perfect fishing weather and not a boat on the water but his.
Danos, 59, piloted the "Miss Amy" shrimping boat along the narrow bayou and out onto the sea Thursday, past the sheds of immigrants from Vietnam and Croatia and descendents of French-speaking Acadians who have been here since the 1700s.
But the nets that have helped Danos provide food for five children remain raised and idle due to the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico for the past five weeks from a ruptured BP oil well, which has led the US government to ban fishing in many areas along the coast.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Danos said as he passed a couple of white herons poking their heads up through the reeds of the marshes that line the bayou.
"If BP don't step up to the plate, a lot of people are going to lose everything.
"If I don't get to go out, the fuel dock don't sell, the ice men don't sell, the grocery store don't sell, the hardware store don't sell. It's not just hurting us fishermen, it's hurting everybody," Danos told AFP.
Louisiana fishermen usually make half their annual income over the next 80 days.
But the oil spewing out of the ruptured pipe from the BP well at the bottom of the Gulf sounded the death knell for this year's fishing season.
Many of the best fishing grounds have been shut down out of fear the oil would contaminate the catches.
Some of the fishermen have joined the effort to help clean up the oil in the sea in exchange for a day's pay from BP. But after seven men took ill while helping with clean-up, even that option to make a living dried up as officials grounded all fishing boats as they investigated what caused the illnesses.
Margaret Curole, a former commercial fisherman and now the spokeswoman for Commercial Fisherman of America, said the disaster in the Gulf would probably deal a coup de grace to the centuries-old southern Louisiana way of life that lives hand in hand with the sea.
"It's everything we love that's disappearing," Curole said.
"The town of Grand Isle will have to shut it doors. Every bit of their money comes from tourism or recreational fishing. In between now and September, that place should be packed, but there's nobody there."
Lying down the bayou from Galliano, Grand Isle is the only still-inhabited barrier island in Louisiana and the only inhabited place where oil from the massive spill has washed ashore.
US government scientists estimated Thursday that crude oil was gushing out of the ruptured well a mile under the sea at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels (504,000 to 798,000 gallons) a day.
That would mean between 18.6 million gallons and 29.5 million gallons of oil have sullied the Gulf -- far more than the roughly 11 million gallons of crude spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker disaster off Alaska -- and the oil is still coming.
The hurt from the oil disaster radiates through the intertwined lives of folk who live along the bayou.
Ricky Guidry makes a living fixing the propellers on shrimp boats, and in the last two weeks, he hasn't had a stitch of work.
"I thought about staying home and making a sandwich for lunch today to save money but in the end I came here," he said as he sat in the Cajun Twist restaurant having a hamburger.
In Chine's Cajun Net Shop in the center of Galliano, owner Lawrence Terrebonne has been making nets for 61 years, and his father and grandfather before him made fishing nets.
But with the oil still pouring into the gulf, orders for nets are down and Terrebonne was worried for his workers, mostly elderly men, himself and businesses like his that exist only because of the fishing industry.
"Ninety-five percent of the fishermen are stopped. It'll be 100 percent within a month," he said.
"You got people that all they ever done all their life is fish for crab, oysters, shrimp. That's all they know how to do.
"It feels terrible. You work all your life for something and then at 70 you might have to start over."
Walton Blanchard, 86, was convinced the French-speaking Acadians who settled in Louisiana some 250 years ago, and the Vietnamese and Croatian fishermen who have joined them more recently would not be knocked out by the oil spill, no matter how massive.
"They've spilled oil all over those waters, and we picked it up and life went on," he told AFP.
"It'll be all right. It's just going to take some time," he said as his crochet hook darted between the nylon strands of a net and linked it together. (By Karin Zeitvogel/ AFP)