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Coalition criticizes BP settlement plan

22nd October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

Go Fish represents fisher folk from across the Gulf Coast and has been advocating for a just settlement for the 2010 BP oil disaster. On October 15, the Go Fish Coalition released a critical analysis of the Seafood Compensation Program (SCP). The SCP outlines the settlement terms proposed earlier this year by BP and supervised by the court system. According to the analysis, the SCP undervalues “lost revenue claims,” consequently “[denying] fishers adequate protection against future losses, including the risk of long-term economic collapse.”

The analysis points out that while the proposed settlement figure totals $2.3 billion, in effect, this overstates the amount being allocated to fishing losses. Go Fish’s analysis states that by paying property claims, such as those to oyster leaseholders, as well as fishing quota claims, which the analysis describes as “a form of financial instrument,” would both detract from the sum available to pay boat captains, deck hands and other industry fishing workers. The analysis says “the net maximum payout is $528[million]” because the available pot of money has been reduced by the amount The Gulf Coast Claims Facility paid out, $732 million.

BP disputed this point, telling The Louisiana Weekly in an email: “The $2.3 billion Seafood Compensation Program is about five times the annual average revenue for the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf region and is in addition to the more than $700 million that the GCCF spent prior to the settlement compensating claimants in the seafood industry.”

The Go Fish document also argues that there is a ceiling to the fund dictated by the value of fish caught in 2009, which serves as the basis for the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee’s compensation estimate.

Byron Encalade heads up the Louisiana Oystermen’s Assoc­iation. He told The Louisiana Weekly that the Go Fish coalition’s aim is to inform fisher folk about the proposed settlement with its advantages and disadvantages. “We just want our voices heard to the point where we can bring BP to the table where we say: ‘we know it’s unfair. Let’s do something to straighten it out.’”

Describing the way oysters have been decimated in the eastern part of Plaquemines Parish, Encalade explained that the formula the settlement is using considers the Gulf of Mexico as a single entity. “You’ve got this formula that looks at the whole gulf at a 30 percent reduction, but we have places that are at 100 percent loss,” he said. Encalade underlined that it will take three to five years for these oyster beds to recover to commercial productivity, if they recover at all.

“It’s a tough situation for a lot of these families. They’re in poverty, and enough attention is not being given to them,” he went on.

Another contention with the settlement proposal Encalade brought up is the fact that a claimant must file multiple claims for different aspects of his or her business. For example, a boat owner would have to file a claim as a boat owner, and if she were also a captain, that would require a separate claim. The processing rate for each type of claim, however, varies. As a result, if the boat captain claim received an offer, that offer entails signing a release. This release would prevent the claimant from pursuing litigation around any of the claims filed, not just the one being settled.

“They’re asking people to opt in or opt out of a process that they haven’t even gotten an offer for yet,” Encalade said. “How do you accept a contract when all the parts of the contract are not in there?”

Joel Waltzer, attorney for the Go Fish Coalition, told The Louisiana Weekly that a further complicating factor is that some issues are still being interpreted by the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claims Center. “He could decide that life-long fishermen who just happened to swap boats in 2009 is not eligible for compensation,” Waltzer offered eligibility requirements as an example of the way the agreement is still being defined.

The analysis also points out a significant disparity in the amount being offered to oyster leaseholders versus fisher folk. The document asserts that “oyster leaseholder property damage claims will receive over half of the Seafood Fund, more than all the fishery lost pay claims combined.” It further points to disparities in the settlement proposal by highlighting that a small group of leaseholders will receive the greatest payouts. “LWF [Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries] data shows that up to $500 Mm [million] will be paid to 15 closely related leaseholder groups.”

In the same vein, Go Fish’s analysis identified differences in the compensation packages being offered within the fishing industry itself. “Leaseholders will receive enough money to replace 75 to 100 years of their total lease earnings. By contrast most shrimpers and all oystermen are offered four to five years of pay, crab and fin fishers two to four years of pay,” the document states.

Waltzer told The Louisiana Weekly that these disparities result from a divide and conquer strategy. “The only thing they have is money…The only thing they care about is punching holes in the ground, and they’ll spend their money protecting the holes they punch…plunk [the money] between different groups of people and make them fight each other over it…Oyster leaseholders versus fishermen; Alabama versus Louisiana…It’s colonialism.”

“BP believes the settlement is a fair, reasonable and adequate resolution of class members’ claims and provides substantial benefits to class members,” BP spokesperson Scott Dean replied to inquiries from The Louisiana Weekly concerning Go Fish’s allegations. “The Program is more than sufficient to ensure class members in various seafood-related industries receive adequate compensation and protection against the risk of future losses.”

This article was originally published in the October 22, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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