Like an oily octopus spreading its tentacles through the Gulf of Mexico, menacing muck is choking off sea life and on shore a way of life.
The pier in Hopedale, La., is usually bustling with a bounty of Gulf oysters. But with oil encroaching on oyster beds, the harvest is down drastically. The Gulf states haul in more than 20 million pounds of oysters a year worth more than $60 million. this year, say oystermen such as Nathan Asapedo, the catch is down by half.
"We have a lot of people depend on oysters," says Asapedo. "Everyone was happy and making money and now this happened."
The ripple effect is washing over truckers like Herbert Bell, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker. He makes his living hauling oysters from the pier to the processor. These days he loses more than $1,300 every time his truck pulls away from the dock.
"This cost us a lot more money because we have to run with a half empty truck several times a week," says Bell.
He delivers oysters to a processing plant 138 miles away. For plant owner Pat Fahey this ecological disaster is a financial disaster. He buys and cleans oysters for transshipment across the country. Last year he was snapping up 1,000 bags of oysters every day. Now he's lucky to snare 250.
"Seeing a little over 200 sacks loaded into a truck that would normally take 500 twice over a weekend, it is a clear reminder of how far we have fallen," says Fahey.
He has fallen far. His business was down $195,000 just for the month of May. he expects to lose as much this month. It's a hit he can't absorb so he's closing his plant down until things improve, putting 60 people out of work.
"This is worse than any hurricane has ever been and that's saying a lot when you live in south Louisiana," says Fahey.
It's not just south Louisiana. Pat Fahey's oyster crisis is rocking Angel de la Riva's seafood business more than 1,600 miles away in Los Angeles, like an economic earthquake.
Oysters account for 10 percent of the seafood he sells to L.A. restaurants. Before the oil spill he was getting 700 cases of oysters a week from Pat Fahey. Now he has just one.
"That's all I'm getting," says de la Riva. "One case."
When he can get more they cost him more. A case that was $28 before the spill now costs $48. To save money, he cut his staff's work week from six days to five.
That means $300 less a month for secretary and single mother Yadira Chavarin. "To me that's a lot," she says. "I used to live in a little studio and now I had to go to my mom's to rent a room to pay less."
She now shops at less expensive stores. She gave up singing lessons, cut back on clothes and extras for her daughter.
"We are all suffering because of the oil thing. And I don't think it is only us. There are more people suffering than just us," she says.
Many more people just like them, their livelihoods drowning in a sea of oil.
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