Wolf Bay Lodge in Orange Beach, Alabama's motto is "You hook' em, we cook' em".
Unfortunately when I ate there yesterday there weren't any sport fisherman turning over their fresh catches to be cooked. All the fishing areas are closed. The mostly empty restaurant was serving a few locals and BP oil spill workers. I was told by one of the locals that Wolf Bay Lodge would have normally been packed at this time of year.
I was traveling with my friend, William Richardson, who had presided over Governor Barbour's Hurricane Recovery fund. No stranger to the problems of the Gulf he was becoming more and more dismayed as he saw the lack of tourism and its effects in Alabama.
Mississippi's shrimp and oyster farmers have been hard hit along with the charter fishing industry. So far the Mississippi beaches have escaped the oil and unlike Alabama, Mississippi still has an active casino industry which will bring in tourists who can discover its still beautiful beaches.
We talked to people both on and off the water. One boat we pulled next to was working for BP but the skipper told me to "tell his story." His father had built the boat thirty years ago and he and his family had made a living catching Red Snapper, Amber Jack and Grouper in the Gulf for the last three decades. He told us that he thought the fishing industry would be gone for at least the next two years. Oyster beds may be closed for up to ten years we learned.
As much as I have traveled to the Gulf since Hurricane Katrina, it was hard to imagine the impact on individual lives until I was there.
In Alabama, which has received much of the oil, parking lots were empty, beach chairs had no occupants. There was one beach we visited that did have swimmers and tanners as well as a huge BP clean up crew with bags of sand being picked up by a bulldozer. A few yards beyond the swimmers were small balls of sand with oil. It melted and ran in your had when you pinched it.
There is a valiant attempt to keep the oil away from the shore. Booms, skimmers and other devices are being put into place and fisherman are being hired for the clean-up effort. The problem is that because the BP has run the clean up some of the local fisherman are being cut out of the process while boats from New York and other east coast locations have been employed. Like the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, the local communities often know what to do best and who needs the most help. It would be great if BP and the Feds were able to use the collective knowledge of these local communities.
Sadly, this is the third hit for the Gulf. Hurricane Katrina and Rita, the financial meltdown of September 2008 which drove down real estate values and now the BP oil spill. That is a lot to recover from.
The news media have not helped with stories of tar balls and oil.
The Gulf is still a beautiful place, restaurants are still serving up great fish even if it isn't from the local waters, and hotels have clean beaches to walk on and wonderful swimming pools to cool off in. After Katrina, hundreds of thousands of volunteers came to help.
The Gulf needs help again. Even though this devastation will have a horrendous impact for years to come, bring your family, swim, visit the shops, have a great vacation and show the locals that America can help it's fellow citizens. You won't be disappointed. It's still beautiful.
Ellen Ratner is Washington bureau chief for Talk Radio News Service and a Fox News contributor.
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Ellen Ratner joined FOX News Channel as a contributor in October 1997.