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On Gulf, coming tourist, fishing seasons will reveal oil spill legacy

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"This thing is far from over," says one shrimp dealer, echoing the comments of many others on the island. "If you think anything else, you're not paying the least bit of attention."

Gulf Coasters want to move on, but the spill hasn't let them, partly because of the nature of the disaster.

"When the BP oil spill happened, not everybody was able to put hands on the plow and clean it up, which meant the usual process of dealing with tragedy was not available as a way of escape," says John Boss, pastor of Grand Isle's First Baptist Church. "This island was not used to that. It played tricks on their minds, and the focus and stress were toward conversations that got little results other than more stress."

Grand Isle is a unique corner of America – both microcosm and amplification of the natural wealth of the Gulf, which provides the country with more than 50 percent of its domestic oil production and 83 percent of its domestic shrimp catch. Islanders grow up working all facets of Grand Isle's mix of boats, offshore oil fields, and beachside snow-cone stands.

It is this blend of natural bounty and industrial exploitation that unsettled the Gulf generally and Grand Isle in particular. For the first time, the two have come into direct conflict, adding to the region's sense of uncertainty.

Oil and fishing "had worked in harmony before, and I think that's why it's been so confusing for people to process their emotions," says Pastor Boss. "Now fishermen were not in harmony with the oil field, and the oil field was not in harmony with the fishermen, and you had this constant tug and pull."

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