BP has conducted a public relations blitz since their Deepwater Horizon well belched almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Their message? Everything is better than ever thanks to their cleanup efforts.
Itís been disconcerting to hear that company pound its chest while disturbing anecdotal information from anglers along the coast begins to creep out.
And the response from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, which is responsible for managing the fisheries that has long been the envy of the nation? A defeaning silence.
That silence was broken in mid August when LDWF Secretary Robert Barhamís frustration seemed to boil over in a speech at the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association conference.
Barhamís simple response to BPís rosy portrayal of the post-spill condition of our coast was astounding: "Itís bunk."
It was difficult not to stand and cheer as one of our public officials showed the courage to speak out in spite of apparent marching orders from his bossí administration.
Barham talked about the oil still lurking somewhere in the Gulf, golf ball-sized tar balls continually washing ashore on Elmerís Island, BPís destruction and refusal to repair of the road on Elmerís Island, an apparent crash in shrimp harvests this summer, the unprecedented use of a million gallons of dispersants and the need to wait to settle with BP until more is known about how the Gulfís fisheries species react to the spill (think the Alaskan herring crash, which didnít happen until five years after the Exxon Valdez spill).
After leaving the podium, he made it clear that what we feared is reality: The Jindal administrationís attorneys are enforcing a code of silence hoping to keep BPís legal dream team guessing.
Admitting he canít force biologists to talk about the situation on the coast, Barham said "itís the lawyers" who are calling the shots now, and they apparently want to surprise their adversaries once court proceedings begin.
Courtroom shenanigans make great TV, but this isnít a Perry Mason movie. The fact is that BP lawyers have access to LDWFíS raw sampling data, and they will have that information parsed by their experts. There will be no trial-ending surprises.
While we certainly believe BP should pay for damages caused by the spill, the public has a right to know what is happening to their fisheries.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has made much of government transparency, and itís time he remind his attorneys of that tenet.
Courage from one often begets courage from others, and we hope that Secretary Barhamís boldness will result in other LDWF officials speaking out.
Otherwise, BPís smiling mouthpieces will continue to distract from alarming indications of potential problems.
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