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
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
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.”
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
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
Roger “Cowboy” Moliere Sr., a fisher for 52 years, takes a oyster knife to a shell to crack it open.
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
An oyster boat floats by in the Fucich Bayou off the southeast coast of Louisiana, not far from the oil spill.
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
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 used hatchet sits on an oyster table after shucking through several thousand pounds of oysters.
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
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.
Rodvid Wilson, 37: “You barely see our people out here anymore. This is a dying breed.”
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.