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May 9, 2010 10:29 AM by Melissa Hawkes

Dead Crawfish in the Atchafalya Basin

Mike Bienvenu has been fishing for crawfish in the Atchafalya basin, since 1973--but he fears his way of life is coming to an end.

"We used to catch a boat load of crawfish with 150 cages, now we have to run 700 or 800," Bienvenu said.

It takes so many cages now because there's no oxygen in the water. He said when he checks traps he often finds dead crawfish.

"The crawfish, the fish...everything suffers, the whole system," he said.

Bienvenu said the poor water quality can be credited to oil and pipeline companies who started drilling for oil in the basin in the 1960's.

"They were supposed to return the dirt back into the canal and they never did," he said.

Joseph “Buzzy” Joy is defending more than 80 fisherman in the case against the oil companies. He says the problem started when companies dug on the bottom of the basin to make room for barges to get through.

"The dredges went in there to dredge the water ways deeper so tug boats and barges could get in to the basin and the drill site at any time of the year," Joy said.

As they dug, they threw dirt on either side of the waterway creating "spoil banks."

"Unfortunately when they finished they didn't take down the spoil banks," he said.

Now there are dozens of spoil banks left behind. They’re blocking the natural flow of the water throughout the basin, which is causes the crawfish to die.

"It’s about damages, I mean that's what it's about,” Bienvenu said. “I mean we lost out for the last 20 years we've lost out."

The case has been moved to federal court, but a trial date has not been set.

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