Jody Menche is winding his fishing boat motor up after slowing to take one of the steep turns he warns could dump us into the swamp. “Look over there” he yells out over the motor’s din, ” that’s part of the lie the oil and gas company told us.” We all turn our heads toward an eyesore of a built up block of rusting pipes guessing that whatever “they” came for here has been taken and all used up. In the 1940′s, in the name of progress and job creation, the gas company sold the locals a bill of goods. As Jody says, “They could have done better, to leave something for our kids. They made enough.” Sadly what is left is the story repeated all over the world when natural environments and ecosystems are exploited for profit and never made whole. Now as Jody says, ” They destroyed the life my father had and I was born to do.” Jody still fishes the swamp but he has to go deeper to find the fresh water areas away from the stagnated ” dead zones” created by dredging, and fatal to the oxygen- breathing crawfish.
We are with Jody to get an idea of his life and the hard work traditional crawfishing is in the wild. Not only does he have to bait, lay and pull his traps, but he has to load to the processor, deliver to market, repair traps, get bait, drive and gas his boat. Every day. And one more, most important thing; he is an advocate for the swamp. “I want to hold them responsible,” he says of the despoilers, “I have to be a steward of the environment when so much is at stake.”
There is still an evil in the swamp more formidable than the ‘gators. Energy companies are securing leases from swamp “landowners” to excavate on previously spared sections of swamp, those same places Jody boats into and lays his crawfish traps. And if that is not heinous enough, they post ” no trespass” signs. The premise the lessors push in court is that the swamp is now non-navigable citing some of the dredged areas of the swamp from the earlier gas and oil excavations, and so land laws should apply, effectively excluding the fishermen from plying the water.
On this day though, all of us in the boat can clearly see the ” no trespass” signs are sitting in several feet of water as we putter by slowly in the boat down a watery path known only to Jody. As we go deeper, the trees drip with Spanish moss, there are water flowers, dragonflies and birds. “You look at the scenery here as it was,” Jody says,” not that spoil bank created by cutting down the trees, and dredging to allow barges and rigs in.” I look at the face of this barrel-chested who speaks with the passion of the dispossesed and I swear I see a tear roll down his cheek, but maybe that is just my own helplessness, anger and outrage.
” I’m hopeful, one day, we can make it better, we have to.” Jody continues. We are on our way back after pulling seven bags of wild crawfish up for our lunch and baiting traps as we go, hardly a haul for this expert crawfisher, but enough of an adventure for us as Jody has been out fishing since early morning. Jody, never breaking concentration as he speaks, suddenly points to the sky. “Look there is a bald eagle right there up in that tree. See um?” The large bird seems to be looking at Jody as we pass by. ” I love to see that, the bald eagle is the symbol of the freedom of our country.” A few yards down the waterway he adds, “ They should barge out all of the material that the oil and gas companies left behind, restore the water flow regulated by the levees the Army Corps controls and let the basin be free again.” Amen Jody, Amen.
Published in Epochtimes blog.
Crawfish: Maralyn D. Hill.