From behind the wheel of his 30-foot fishing boat, Freddy Demolle is right at home. His weathered face and tanned hands testify to the many days spent just as this one, speeding through the marshes at the mouth of the Mississippi in southern Plaquemines Parish. But instead of trawling for fish, shrimp or crabs, Demolle is ferrying groups of media representatives to parts of the marsh stricken by oil. This is his new routine.

From behind the wheel of his 30-foot fishing boat, Freddy Demolle is right at home. His weathered face and tanned hands testify to the many days spent just as this one, speeding through the marshes at the mouth of the Mississippi in southern Plaquemines Parish.


But instead of trawling for fish, shrimp or crabs, Demolle is ferrying groups of media representatives to parts of the marsh stricken by oil. This is his new routine.


Demolle, 63, is working in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. He and several other fishing boat captains have been contracted to help ferry people around.


But though he is taking his orders from LDWF, Demolle is being paid by his nephew, who owns the boat and, in turn, is being paid by BP.


"They pay us $1,200 per day for the use of this boat," Demolle said. "My nephew gives me half of it, and he keeps half."


Asked if that was better than he would make fishing, Demolle shrugged. "Sometimes it is, sometimes it ain't."


Demolle is just one of myriad fishermen, shrimpers, and oystermen who have been affected by the oil spill. His story is fairly common.


And while Demolle is grateful for the money BP is paying them at the moment, he expresses some doubts about what it will be like for the long term.


"Who knows when they will stop paying?" he asks.


In many ways, Demolle's home territory of Plaquemines Parish has been lucky. Prevailing currents have carried the worst of the oil damage to the west, toward Grand Isle.


Demolle idles his boat near an island in the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area.


The roseau cane that dominates the island is stained rust-colored near the waterline. Despite the best efforts of both hard and absorbent booms placed all the way around the island, there is oil in the interior -- stagnant pools of orange water. Pockets of oil float just beneath the surface, and the booms are stained with it as well.


"That oil came in through Blind Bay," Demolle said, recounting what he had heard from other fishermen.


But the effect of the oil invasion here is not necessarily marked just in orange stains.


Lousiana Wildlife and Fisheries Senior Agent John Blaylock is one of several crewmen on a 32-foot Boston Whaler patrol boat. His normal territory includes Bienville Parish in north Louisiana, but since the spill, he has had to rotate down south one week out of every four to help agents in the coastal areas patrol. That schedule isn't likely to change anytime soon.


Wildlife agents statewide have been told to be prepared to rotate in and out of the area for months.


"Nobody knows exactly," said Robert Cosse, an agent from Plaquemines Parish. "We have been told to be ready."


Of the other agents on the boat, one is from Natchitoches Parish and another, Eric Droddy, is from Pitkin.


The agents spend their time patrolling the fishing closures, which shift with the wind, and looking for oil, said B.J. Shoemaker of Marthaville.


Mostly, said Droddy, they keep fishermen informed.


Fishermen go out to one area to fish, then hunker down for the night, not necessarily hearing of changes to the closures.


"We mostly just go in the closed areas, and make sure nobody's fishing in there," Blaylock said.


But the fishermen are few and far between.


"It's too much of a hassle to keep up with the openings and closings," Shoemaker said. So most fishermen just stay home. Some come out to catch a personal supply, but not many.


Even though people are staying away, the agents will likely continue patrolling well into the end of the year as fishing closes out and waterfowl seasons open first in September for teal and then November for duck.


The fishing and hunting keep agents normally assigned to the parish constantly busy, Cosse said, with small lulls depending on the weather.


"Unless there's an oil spill," he added with a shake of his head. Now, the waters are deserted at a time of the year when hundreds, maybe thousands, fish on a good weekend.


Three boats, with four agents in each boat, patrol the Gulf waters out of Venice. Agents are also patrolling other areas out of little bases set up all over the state's coast. The highest density of agents is around Grand Isle.


Demolle and the wildlife agents are a small part of a massive mobilization under way with one goal: stop the oil from getting into Louisiana's marshes.


Leesville (La.) Daily Leader