The Forgotten Black Fishermen in the Gulf Oil Spill

From our archives: The black fishermen of the Gulf of Mexico are a dwindling breed. Writer Brentin Mock and photographer Shawn Escoffery found them in May 2010 after the BP oil spill and listened to their stories.

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  • Poster Child

    Poster Child

    Judge Williams, 67, is just how one would imagine a black fisherman described in a fairy tale: weathered skin, soiled fishing cap and a white beard that stretches down and across his upper jawline, connecting with his mustache.


    Captions by Brentin Mock

  • The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

    The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

    Ameal Wilson, 57, Williams’ decades-long partner in the oyster trade, picking through the shell clusters to find good oysters to keep, and bad ones to toss back in the bay.

  • Aye, Aye, Captain

    Aye, Aye, Captain

    Judge Williams, 67, looks out into the sea from behind the wheel in his cabin. “Youngsters don’t wanna fool with it. It’s too much work. They don’t know what workin’ hard’s all about.”

  • Setting Sail

    Setting Sail

    Warren Duplessis, 49, with fellow fisher Roger Moliere Jr., 37, in front of their boat at the Pointe a la Hache boat harbor.

  • When It Hits Home

    When It Hits Home

    Duplessis: “This fishing area been closed down for a while. The way it’s lookin’, it ain’t gonna open for a long time — the way it’s lookin’ in the news.”

  • 'Cowboy' of the Sea

    'Cowboy' of the Sea

    Roger “Cowboy” Moliere Sr., a fisher for 52 years, takes a oyster knife to a shell to crack it open.

  • Surf and Turf

    Surf and Turf

    A metal hatchet head sits on a flame after breaking off from a wood handle. The steel is heated so the wood inside will fall out and a new handle can be inserted. Next to it cooks a pot of black-eyed peas that the oystermen will feast on later.

  • Wading in the Water

    Wading in the Water

    An oyster boat floats by in the Fucich Bayou off the southeast coast of Louisiana, not far from the oil spill.

  • Side Splitting

    Side Splitting

    Rodvid Wilson takes a hatchet to the oyster clusters to break them up into individuals. “It’s a workout. We do this all day. Just hittin’ ’em.”

  • Spoils of War

    Spoils of War

    At the end of the day, Rodvid Wilson and Ameal Wilson shovel the oysters they’ve caught into coffee bean sacks, to be hauled off by buyers and wholesalers back at the Pointe a la Hache marina.

  • A Thousand to One

    A Thousand to One

    A used hatchet sits on an oyster table after shucking through several thousand pounds of oysters.

  • The Gang's All Here

    The Gang's All Here

    Edwin “Peewee” Riley (striped blue polo), 84, and one of the oldest black fishers, stands with Judge Williams and another fisher outside a trailer in Pointe a la Hache waiting for a meeting of the Louisiana Oystermen Association.

  • While the Getting's Good

    While the Getting's Good

    Ameal Wilson and Judge Williams pull an oyster dredge up from the sea to empty hundreds of oysters on the table. The oil hasn’t infiltrated deep enough above the American Bay and Black Bay, where black fishers work, but they suspect that it will soon enough.

  • Endangered Living

    Endangered Living

    Rodvid Wilson, 37: “You barely see our people out here anymore. This is a dying breed.”

  • An Oyster's Pearl

    An Oyster's Pearl

    Oysterman Ameal Wilson. There seems to be an endless supply of oysters at the bottom of the sea, but there is not an endless supply of black fishers. Wilson is a master at spotting good and bad shells. In the blink of an eye, he can tell which ones are problems, and should go back in the water, and which are worth keeping on deck.