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MOBILE, Alabama -- Snapper season began at midnight, promising to be much longer than the 2010 season, which both opened and closed a year ago today. Fishermen returning to the dock then were greeted with the news that federal officials had closed most of the Gulf to fishing while they were at sea. In local waters off Alabama and Mississippi, that day also marked the arrival of large amounts of oil. And for a year, people in the fishing industry wondered if they would lose everything from boats, gear and their livelihood, to the wildly productive Gulf ecosystem itself.
Count Skipper Thierry among those who were afraid. Thierry started going on trips on his father’s charter boat as a 4-year-old, before he could even see over the gunwales. His teen years were spent at sea as a deckhand, unhooking snapper and baiting hooks for paying customers. After a brief flirtation with higher education, Thierry knew what he wanted to do with his life.
Thierry worked in BP’s Vessels of Opportunity program during the spill, spotting oil off the coast. "Man, it was depressing. Oil coming in; I just knew it was going to be everywhere," Thierry said, describing the sinking feeling that consumed him and others on the coast last summer. Thierry spent the fall, winter and spring taking teams of scientists out to study the Gulf, particularly the red snapper population. Instead of dropping squid-baited hooks overboard, he’s been watching the researchers deploy complicated equipment that analyzes everything from salinity and oxygen levels, to the kinds of plankton in the water.
Now, with opening day upon him, he said, "I’m just ready to go do my thing. I’m ready to go fishing. I’m ready to be done with the oil spill, and the oil industry. I think we’re getting there." He continued, "I think the fish are fine. I think the fishing’s fine. We still have a little bit of a perception problem — or maybe a lot of a perception problem — with the public. Nothing is going to heal that but time." As for a prediction about this year’s snapper season, Thierry said it’s going to be outstanding.
"I’ll say this: The Gulf, the red snapper, everything out there, is bigger, badder, and better than it’s ever been. And it really is. Nobody can deny that."