Texas Fishermen Are Still Waiting for BP Payouts

The disaster seems like it’s in the past, but for some, the aftermath of the spill is a daily reality.

By Brenda SalinasApril 22, 2015 7:50 am

British Petroleum has set aside a $20 billion trust to settle claims arising from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. So far, Texas received more than $18 million for restoration projects along the coast.

But while the state is being compensated, individual plaintiffs in Texas have had a much harder time getting the money they say they deserve.

Charles Herd is a maritime lawyer in Houston.

“By my last count we have 224 clients in the BP oil spill and about 17 percent of those have been paid to date – which means that 83 percent have not been paid,” Herd says.

Herd says the clients that have been compensated have gotten checks from anywhere from $7,000 – $133,000. Most of them work in the seafood industry.

Economist Charles Mason was a witness in the U.S. civil trial against BP. He says shrimpers were especially hard hit by the spill.

“Imagine that a shrimper coming out of East Texas in the Gulf Coast works his way along the Gulf from west to east, harvesting shrimp,” Mason says. “Now he has to go farther to find viable population, so there’s extra cost associated with that – maybe the quality of the shrimp is suspect.”

Mason says the extra cost involved trickles down through the rest of the Texas Gulf economy.

“Someone who runs a restaurant and they find that they can’t access the quality of seafood from the Gulf that they were once able to – or there’s a perception amongst patrons that the quality is suspect – so they take a hit, their workers take a hit, the places where those workers went to shop, they’re probably going to take a hit and these effects are kind of going to spiral out,” Mason says. “They’ll interact and weave their way through the entire fabric of the community. All that stuff is ongoing.”

Despite that, the Gulf seafood industry isn’t doing too badly right now. It’s been buoyed by a strong dollar and locally-sourced foodie trends. Andrea Hance is with the Texas Shrimp Association, she says the impact of five years of deflated prices has still left a scar on the Gulf economy.

“It’s particularly challenging for fishermen and people who typically work with their hands and they’re not keen accountants – that’s not what they do,” Hance says. “And if they were keen accountants, they might not be fishermen.”

Hance says the industry lost more than half a billion dollars since the spill. In Texas, shrimpers have received less than $70 million from the settlement trust.

But if that number seems low, shrimpers have been the most successful in receiving compensation; most plaintiffs are still waiting.

The deadline for filing an individual claim for compensation from the BP trust is June 8.