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Fishing the Industry-Nature Line

Veteran shrimper reflects on competing forces at work in Gulf of Mexico port

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FROM the hurricane-battered docks of Dickinson Bayou to the open waters past the petrochemical plants and the marsh grass, C. L. Standley is a veteran of Galveston Bay. At the helm of his 43-foot whitewashed shrimp trawler, the Captain Clyde, he plies the confluence of rich natural resources and smokestack industry that is Galveston Bay.

The recent oil spill from the tanker Mega Borg, just 60 miles from the mouth of the bay, grabbed national attention, but it was merely a footnote to the obvious for people whose livelihoods revolve around the bay.

The coexistence of industry and nature is constantly strained here in the nation's third-largest port area. More than half of United States chemical production and a third of oil refining is done on the shores of Galveston Bay, which also produces a good share of the nation's seafood - coming by way of nets like Mr. Standley's.

Between unloading a day's catch - 300 pounds of pale pink shrimp - and mending a net torn when it was raked over oyster shells, Standley reflects on the catalog of bay history represented by his 20 years of shrimping.

Shot through with Texas twang and sentiment, his observations range from the interplay of environmental concerns, government regulation, and the vagaries of ``Mother Nature,'' to the violent cultural clash of Vietnamese fishermen and native Texans.

The Mega Borg accident, Standley says, gives shrimpers pause. ``The same spill in Galveston Bay would be devastating,'' he says of the 40,000-gallon light-crude-oil spill.

``I didn't know the environmental threats were there that I know [about] now,'' he says of his 1970 start in shrimping, which came after earlier careers in chemical sales and teaching junior high science.

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