BLG attorney Ed Bell hired to represent the two biggest fish houses in Maderia Beach, FL

MADEIRA BEACH – People in the local seafood business say their industry is on the verge of collapse because of the oil spill. Now, the two biggest fish houses on Madeira Beach have hired a lawyer to go after BP.

“The public perception of the seafood is terrible,” says Charlie Reiner, owner of Fishbusterz Fisheries. “I mean, everybody is afraid to eat seafood out of the Gulf.”

Now, a hundred fishing boats here sit in limbo. Gulf waters that were closed for months because of the oil spill have now reopened, but there’s no demand for native grouper, and there’s no money from BP.

“BP keeps stalling,” says Bob Spaeth, owner of Madeira Beach Seafood. “They keep asking for more and more ridiculous things.”

Spaeth and Renier have hired South Carolina attorney Ed Bell to sue BP for economic damages.

His Florida associate, Pat Telan, met with the fish house owners Friday.

“These guys are hanging by a thread,” said Telan, “and something like that is enough to cut the thread.”

BP has paid thousands of dollars to some individual fishermen in the area who’ve signed papers promising not to sue the oil company. But some wonder how those fishermen will go back to work if the fish houses are gone.

“If we don’t get it, we can’t pay the bills,” said Renier, “We can’t pay the mortgages. We can’t survive.”

But the dockside fish houses could have a hard time in court. Stetson University College of Law Professor Timothy Kaye says courts have allowed fishermen to collect damages, but a legal line has been drawn at the dock.

“The line will be drawn when we get to businesses that operate purely on land,” says Kaye. “For example, restaurants that might sell the fish have historically been denied a claim, even though the fishermen have been allowed a claim.”

But Kaye says if the fish houses unite and make enough legal noise, they could get a settlement from the $20 billion dollar BP trust fund. Attorney Telan says he expects legal action could be filed within a few weeks after attorneys compile evidence.

August 6, 2010
Lloyd Sowers
My Fox Tampa Bay