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Should BP help lure Louisiana fishermen back to work?

By Jim Acosta and Bonnie Kapp, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Under proposal, Louisiana fishermen will be paid an incentive to return to work
  • BP spokesman says the plan is under consideration
  • One fisherman worries Americans will reject the state's seafood despite test results

New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) -- With oil from a ruptured underwater well dissipating faster than expected and the well capped, Louisiana seafood officials want BP to lure the state's fishermen back to the water.

Many of Louisiana's 12,000 fishermen have grown accustomed to serving as clean-up workers since the oil disaster began, drawing paychecks from BP instead of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, Ewell Smith, executive director of Louisiana's Seafood Promotional and Marketing Board, is asking BP to offer a bonus to fishermen who return to their old jobs.

"It's a common-sense approach to put fishermen back to work, to help mitigate claims against [the company]," Smith said.

BP was the operator of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The rig exploded and sank April 20, triggering the oil disaster. Eleven people died in the blasts.

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Under Louisiana's proposed "Back to the Docks" program, BP would pay fishermen an additional 30 cents for every dollar in seafood they catch.

Now that BP is closing in on permanently killing the well, company spokesman Larry Thomas said the oil giant is considering Smith's proposal, although no final decision has been made.

"We are very supportive of programs of guys going back to fishing," Thomas said.

Jim Funk, president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said there's a good reason to offer fishing incentives -- restaurants in New Orleans and southern Louisiana restaurants could run out of fresh, locally-caught seafood within the week.

"We've got to get the commercial fishermen back to the water to catch the shrimp and the crabs and the fish so we can put it back on our menus," Funk said.

But convincing the fishermen to return may not be an easy task. New Orleans commercial fisherman Larry Spahn said he worries Americans will reject the state's seafood, no matter what the government says.

"We'll go back to fish, but what do we do with what we catch if nobody wants to buy it?" he said.

So far, officials with the Food and Drug Administration say none of Louisiana's seafood has tested positive for oil or other contaminants.

New lab results on the state's seafood are due back within the next few days. FDA spokeswoman Meghan Scott said those results could lead to the re-opening of the vast majority of the Gulf's waters to commercial fishing over the next week.

"We feel good, based on the testing so far," Scott said.