Morgan City Defends Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival

Suite 101, 29th June, 2010

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Shrimp

Louis Dupuy, Graphic Artist Designer, and the Shrimp & Petroleum Festival own the copyright to the 2010 poster designed for the Festival. [www.shrimp-petrofest.org]

Long before millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico, some people outside Louisiana scoffed at the title of the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival in Morgan City.

In wake of the BP oil spill disaster along the Gulf Coast, criticism of Louisiana's oldest chartered festival has intensified. Several writers have bashed the festival's ironic name, while locals have been defending it. The oil spill, which started on April 20 after the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by Transocean exploded, killed 11 workers and sunk into the Gulf, has injured the two industries that drive the city about 70 miles west southwest of New Orleans.

As crude oil washes onto much of the Gulf Coast, shrimpers in the Morgan City area and along the region have been left without jobs and seen a livelihood diminish. Meanwhile, oilfield-related workers in south Louisiana have expressed deep concern over the Obama administration's threat of a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling, which would cut tens of thousands of jobs if enforced.

"It's a very challenging time for us," says Lance Arceneaux, a resident of Morgan City. "I hope and pray we can make it through this catastrophe. This is a time to pull together, not to be picking apart the name of the Shrimp & Petroleum Festival. It looks like some writers out there have no compassion. It's frustrating when people who don't live here and haven't been here to make these statements."

Arceneaux was referring to a post by Susan Deily-Swearingen on HuffingtonPost.com.

"Given that the two headliners of the festival (shrimp and petroleum) are currently engaged in mortal combat, wouldn't it make sense to re-imagine what is being celebrated here?" she writes. "Would fewer people really flock to Morgan City for the 'Louisiana Shrimp Festival?' I tend to doubt it, as 'Shrimp Festivals' seem to do fair business in many other venues."

Festival Carries On

The festival's organizers and most Morgan City residents agree with Arceneaux. The annual Labor Day weekend celebration will go on without apologies. The festival, which draws about 200,000 visitors, will celebrate its 75th anniversary with food, entertainment and arts and crafts, from Sept. 2-6.

"All systems a go. We will be going forth with our festival," says Lee Delaune, the festival's executive director who has been involved with the festival for 41 years. "We believe in the two industries that Morgan City represents. Oil and shrimp really do mix, and they're the lifeblood of the people in our area."

The event began as a shrimp festival in 1936, and organizers added petroleum to its title 30 years later when the oil-and-gas industry gained momentum. Morgan City has often been credited as the birthplace of the oil-and-gas industry in 1947. During a special Blessing of the Fleet ceremony at the festival, water vessels from both the shrimp and petroleum industries receive blessings from local clergy.

"From the outside, it looks like shrimp and petroleum just shouldn't be together, especially seeing what's going on in the Gulf," says Morgan City resident Katie Lejaune, whose father works offshore and grandfather fishes for seafood. "There's truth to that, but you can't ignore the fact that most of the families here have people in both the shrimp and oil industries. Then lots of shrimp use the rigs as reefs. There's some connection. It reflects what our community really is and our way of life."

Festival Feels Critical Attack

Claire Walter, an award-winning journalist and blogger from Colorado, attacked the festival in her Travel Babel blog. Walter, who did not travel to Morgan City, received more than 250 comments in response to her post -- most of them disapproving her remarks.

"The good folks of Morgan City, seemingly equally proud of the Cajun tradition and their stinkin' oil industry, don't even seem to be willing to let the greatest man-made environmental catastrophe in American history stop the party or even drop the 'petroleum' part," Walter writes. "The Shrimp and Petroleum Festival stinks as much as a refinery or petrochemical plant. I'd rather smell Louisiana's magnolia's, orange blossoms and roses."

One resident of a town near Morgan City thinks a name change to the festival may be necessary, but he admitted that one oil company's mistake shouldn't pollute an entire industry.

"It's BP's fault, not the petroleum industry," Randy Callais says. "Because of what's happened, though, maybe we should look at the name. It wouldn't bother me if they kept the name or if they did switch it. It's not like it's the Shrimp & BP Festival. But, maybe it's something to consider in the coming years."

Residents Rally Around Festival

Many south Louisiana residents believe this year's edition of the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival will be a rally for those affected by both industries. The festival has only been postponed in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina and in 2008 due to Gustav. Organizers moved the festival to New Orleans in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew's eye devastated the Morgan City area.

"We need this festival, especially now," stresses Keith Lagarde, resident of nearby Berwick, La., of the event that generates large revenue for Morgan City's area. "If we cancel it or change it, we would be letting BP, Obama, the federal government and the [critics] defeat us. We won't let them kick us while we are down. I can guarantee that."

Organizers plan to honor the 11 workers killed during the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April.

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