With his full snow white beard, Frank Woolley has been known to scores of New Orleans children as Santa Claus. He gets into character as the jolly old man during the holiday seasons to help out events and charities. The rest of the year, Woolley fishes giant Lake Pontchartrain, north of the city, to make a living.
Woolley fishes alone “in a good little one-man boat … not very pretty,” he says, with a pure New Orleans draw. Now age 67, he’s been fishing to lake and nearby Gulf of Mexico waters around the mouth of the Mississippi River all his life … like his father and grandfather did before him. As soon as he learned to swim, he says, his mother allowed him to go out on the fishing boats. And, he hoped his son might follow the tradition.
Looking out on the open water of Pontchartrain, Woolley talks of his concern for the future. The Mississippi delta area with its tributaries and wetlands are a national resource, rich with wildlife, fish and shellfish. It is a critical breeding ground for much of the Gulf’s sea life … creatures Woolley is worried about because of weeks of unprecedented contamination by oil from BP’s runaway well 40 miles out in the Gulf.
He admits to not being an expert. But, at the same time, he knows the waters and marshes as only a southern Louisiana fisherman would … and, something’s not right, he believes, with delicate creatures and plant life being inundated by heavy crude oil.
Woolley holds BP fully responsible, not only for destruction to wide areas of the formerly pristine fishing waters but also for ruining his career as a commercial fisherman. A quiet, soft-spoken man, it’s clear he is not happy and believes the oil giant should fairly compensate him for his boat and his inability to continue the work he’s loved for all his life.