Fast Company traveled the Gulf Coast before and during Memorial Day Weekend, talking to oystermen, shrimpers, fishermen, and others. As apocryphal images of oily beaches and sick wildlife dominated the news, we found seafood workers raking in unprecedented bounty from the Gulf. But were their livelihoods were more immediately threatened by approaching crude or their own desperate overfishing?

For now Florida is in the clear and the demand to fill oyster orders are high, with huge sections of the Gulf shut down from fishing. Oyster houses along the Florida Gulf are looking for more hands to bring in the catch.
David Barber, owner of Barber Fisheries takes a call from the East Point, Fla., fire watchtower checking to see if he was burning any burlap bags as they were trying to identify the source of smoke on the coastal horizon. Bag burning carries a fine and is something the oyster houses stopped doing.
An Oysterman in east Point, Fla., gets his paperwork in order before he hauls up his bags from the morning catch.
Deckhands at Barber’s Fisheries in East Point, Fla., receive the day’s catch from oystermen as they come in from the bay with their bags. There is a 2 p.m. cutoff for all boats hoping to unload their catch to wholesale buyers on the docks.
A line of trucks start to form as oystermen in East Point, Fla., arrive to unload before the daily deadline.
A lone boat sits in the Bay as almost everyone that can oyster is out for the day raking the beds for their 20 bag limit. The boats work in two-man crews, one to rake, one to separate legal catches, replace the small sized oysters, and bag the rest.
Oysters come down the line at a Apalachicola Oyster house along Highway 98, as workers toss out any broken, damaged, or empty shells.
On the other side of this conveyer belt dumping empty shells, is an assembly line of workers shucking oysters and filling pint and gallon containers for Barber Fisheries. Restaurants often request shucked product.
A pallet of bushel bags filled with oysters sits on the docks waiting to be processed in Apalachicola, Fla.
Oysters come straight out of the Gulf and are loaded directly into trucks to be delivered around the State of Florida. Following a recent boom in demand from suppliers in closed parts of has orders to Barber Fisheries coming in from as far North as Maryland.
The towns that dot Highway 98, which runs along the coast, have seen their share of hard times. Many of the longstanding fisheries are just shells now—no longer active, though many of the makeshift docks behind them are used.
Many driveways in town are made from crushed oyster shells; mounds of shells pile up at processor lots, and contractors come and haul them away for use.
On day 41 of the BP oil leak, Judy Buffkin holds a few of the remaining shrimp she had for sale in Carrabelle, Fla. Tourists and locals in town for Memorial Day buy their catch out each day. They were selling these for $5 a pound. Her two sons have gone out shrimping every night but three since the April 20 oil rupture. This was taken on Day 41 of the spill.
Judy Buffkin wears a tattoo to honor her husband Glen, who shrimped and fished in these waters after moving the family to the Panhandle from the East Coast of Fla. Glen died right in the bay behind these docks, trapped in the cabin as his boat capsized. As townspeople tried to rescue him, he drowned with his dog.
Fred Millard has owned and operated fresh fish markets since 1942 along the Gulf Coast, working alongside his wife for 35 years. He keeps watch over the bay and stays on top of the news, waiting to see if the oil will reach his stretch of Florida Coast and rob him of his livelihood.
Fred’s Retail sells the daily catch -- Gulf shrimp, fresh oysters, and his specialty, smoked mullet. His business was heavily trafficked as tourists moving into beachfront rental homes stopped by to stock up on his seafood for the holiday weekend.
A seafood restaurant connected to a BP gas station is going gangbusters with customers, mostly locals, most nights.
The lawyers along the Gulf have not hesitated to offer a hand with out of work residents in dealing with BP.
Along the docks of Leeville, Louisiana, we spotted Theodore -- he declined to give his last name -- with his head in his hands camped out on this boat for almost a month now. When asked what’s he been doing since the spill has shut down fishing, he turned and pointed to his stash of alcohol and said, “Drinking,” then let out a raspy laugh.
Theodore insisted he speak to us while holding this snare hook so “we had a good shot” of him. After moving here from Kentucky 12 years ago he has made his living catching snapper. Asked his profession, he said, “I’m a fisherman!” Asked what he’ll do now that he can’t fish, he said, “I guess go back to Kentucky and live in a tent on my property. BP will be paying me for a long time.”
Vices. Theodore mixes it up to pass the time. The owner of this vessel did not want to join in the cleaning effort, because he did not want to mess his boat up in the oil and chemicals -- stories have started to circulate about boats being destroyed from the cleanup.
One of the few boats still rigged for fishing cuts through the bayou near Leeville, La. Currently BP is employing paying 85% of the fleet not to fish but to help skim or scout for oil slicks.
A fishermen’s cemetery sits along the docks in Leeville, La. In the distance, shrimp boats have been docked for weeks.
Billy “The Redneck.” (He declined to give his last name.)
Billy, standing on the boat where he works. It was last at sea at the beginning of May, he says, when the Coast Guard came in by helicopter and confiscated his catch and made him and his fellow crew throw everything overboard. They had been out for 7 days and had no idea the waters they'd been fishing were closed.
Along the shore in Gulfport, Mississippi, as news of oil heading to the area becomes a reality, this family took their boys down to the water for one more day of cast-netting, and beach-combing....
They played past sunset and woke to the news that oil had reached the barrier Islands in Mississippi.

The Last Haul Photos: Fortune Now, Oil Tomorrow for Gulf Fishermen

Fast Company traveled the Gulf Coast before and during Memorial Day Weekend, talking to oystermen, shrimpers, fishermen, and others. As apocryphal images of oily beaches and sick wildlife dominated the news, we found seafood workers raking in unprecedented bounty from the Gulf. But were their livelihoods were more immediately threatened by approaching crude or their own desperate overfishing?

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