Forrest Gump's Bayou: Bubba vs. Bubba on BP Spill

In the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, Forrest recalled, "Mama always said, dying was a part of life." But he was not saying this in reference to his business plan for "Bubba Gump Shrimp Company," named in memory of his dead friend and fellow soldier Bubba from Bayou La Batre, Alabama (pronounced Balla Batree). Bubba had dreamed of returning from war to harvest the fruit of the sea--delicious, sweet, Gulf shrimp.

Had Bubba returned from war today, he would have his economic dream deferred by stiff competition from foreign fish farms that sometimes have problems with chemicals mucking up the environment and your palate. He would face an uncertain future about what's to come as fish and wildlife wash ashore waiting for biologists to conduct necropsies to determine cause of death. He would lament that solid oil balls are appearing on beaches like animal turds littering a public sidewalk. Is the slow death of the bayou's shrimp industry just a part of life?

Bubba probably thought of fruit of the sea as a perpetuity--a renewable resource that could be harvested for eternity so long as fisheries were well managed. "Not asking for Alabama wild shrimp is asking for the end of a way of life," according to the Eat Alabama Wild Shrimp Committee, which also lists local stores stocking Alabama seafood.

If you're thinking about putting a boon around your dinner table to keep out pan-blackened fish and shrimp from the Gulf Coast, you might think about banning everything surf and turf because your consumption is killing off natural habits and species globally, filling you with mercury-loaded predator fish and color-enhanced salmon, and providing corn chow for popular documentaries like Fast Food Nation and King Corn. Boycotting the bayou for safety reasons makes no sense unless you are applying the same scrutiny to everything else in your pantry. 93 percent of the Gulf is open to commercial fishing.

The less valuable the catch from the Gulf, the fewer people we have on deck to make a fuss when it's polluted. Jabberjaw television pundits would have us believe otherwise, but the catastrophic BP oil spill is not a Republican-Democrat, liberal-conservative conflict. This is fundamentally an American issue about balancing tradeoffs associated with using our offshore resources.

Outright lies about offshore drilling are easier to refute than half-truths. For example, Dick Armey's FreedomWorks says offshore drilling is "good for the economy and good for the environment" since rigs create the single benefit of an artificial fish habitat. Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform boasts that fully developing Alabama's offshore resources would increase the state's economic output by $20.8 million annually and bring $1.7 million in annual tax revenue that "could be used to pay down Alabama's $401 million deficit."

Would Bubba be impressed?

The presumed $20.8 million in economic output derived from more offshore drilling is equal to the cost of giving each Alabama resident a small Frappuccino from Starbucks. The additional annual tax revenue of $1.7 million would allow the state to pay off this just this year's projected budget deficit after no less than 236 years of oil payments. There are certainly legitimate arguments for more offshore drilling, but Norquist- and Armey-affiliated groups promote premises that contradict their conclusion. Even average Americans who are pro-drilling will concede this point.

"I think that $20.8 million estimated economic impact is ridiculously low...Mr. Gobin has an axe to grind and he is using the spill to peddle nonsense," said "BubbaHenry" in his comment posted to an article published in the southern Alabama daily Press-Register. After realizing that he misattributed Americans for Tax Reform's numbers to me, BubbaHenry remarked, "While I agree with the goals of the tax reduction folks who generated an estimated economic impact of increased offshore drilling, I don't necessarily agree that they have the expertise to make an accurate prediction."

That's a start at reasonable dialogue.

Offshore drilling is here to stay in Louisiana and Texas, but whether in-shore waters are opened elsewhere and additional offshore drilling is allowed is an open question. Voters in Florida, California, and the eastern seaboard should be mindful that drilling in their waters means that official government statistics will continue to record numerous serious and minor accidents despite the best efforts of the industry. 25 workers lost their lives offshore during the past three years. 145 fires and explosions occurred last year alone. The big concern is the single catastrophic disaster that kills workers and puts an end to every Bubba's dream of harvesting shrimp from the Gulf, crabs from Chesapeake Bay, and lobsters from Atlantic waters.

What you can do to help the Gulf Coast is simply seek the best by asking for local, wild-caught seafood and fish from Canadian and American waters. No good restaurant should have anything else.