by Veronica del Blanco/Louisiana Seafood News
Exactly seven years to the day after Hurricane Katrina, Robert Campo and four other friends and fishermen launched a boat onto a flooded four lane highway outside the federal levee system. The mission; retrieve a neighbor who refused to evacuate for Hurricane Isaac.
Braving pelting rain, whitecaps and 70 to 80 mile per hour winds, the men headed south following LA-46 towards Shell Beach.
The rescue mission was a success. Campo and company saved their neighbor along with his two Labrador retrievers – but they couldn’t save Shell Beach.
Documenting Shell Beach
New Orleans TV and documentary film producer Trent Robinson first met Robert Campo and his family in early 2010 at their marina in Shell Beach – a small fishing village on the shoreline of Lake Borgne in eastern St. Bernard Parish.
Robinson was covering the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.
Intrigued by the family and the fishing community they served, Robinson began filming a documentary about the Campos and their daily life at the marina that will be entered at the Sundance Film Festival.
Fishing is in the blood
Robert Campo’s great-grandfather, Celestino, started a charter fishing company in 1903 in the southernmost point of the southeastern part of the state. It eventually expanded into a marina over the years.
Campo’s grandfather, Frank “Blackie” Campo, took over the business in 1936, decades before the Army Corps of Engineers conducted the first hurricane impact studies that shifted focus from flood prevention to storm surge protection.
Campo’s marina – like a majority of Louisiana’s coastal marinas – is located outside the Federal Flood Protection Levee System, making it ineligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, as well as any Small Business Administration (SBA) loan.
Lingering over Shell Beach for almost 24-hours, Hurricane Isaac took its toll on the community, and completely ravished Campo’s docks.
Despite the setback, Campo is determined to rebuild.
“I promised my grandfather I would keep the family business open,” he said about Blackie who passed in 2008. “Somebody has to be here to support the fishing industry. If it’s not me, it’s going to be somebody else.”
Rebuilding the docks
The Campos have already driven the new, stronger pilings. “We’re like bee’s starting a new hive.”
Rebuilding the family docks with steel construction, galvanized purlins and breakaway walls to withstand future storms takes more cash than currently available to the family, a fact Campo happened to mention off-hand to Robinson when he called to check on the family’s recovery.
A few days later Robinson called Campo asking permission to organize a concert to raise the $25,000 necessary to rebuild Campo’s Marina.
“Trent’s wheels are always turning,” says Campo with a laugh. “I was really overwhelmed. He’s a really good guy, and to spend all this time on something he’s not getting anything for. Believe me, I am very grateful.”
Robinson says he believes that without the Campo’s Marina there would be and will be no Shell Beach.
“They provide much more than fuel, ice and bait to sport anglers and commercial fishermen; they are the social hub, point of refuge and guardians of the community,” he says. “The Campo’s business has been the linchpin to this community for over 107 years; people have rebuilt because the Campos have rebuilt.”
A New Orleans style party to benefit Shell Beach
The “Save Shell Beach Concert and Silent Auction” will be sponsored by Friends of the Fishermen – the officially recognized fund of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.
More than 20 businesses and celebrities have donated items to be auctioned, including actor David Arquette – a collaborator with Robinson on a recent project in New Orleans – who has donated an original painting and a VIP table, complimentary bottle service and evening with the star at his Hollywood club Bootsy’s Bellows.
The New Orleans benefit will help save an important part of Louisiana’s culture and lifestyle.
“When you cross outside the levee system, you’re in God’s country,” says Campo of Shell Beach. “This is paradise. Everybody works hard for a living. It’s by far the best speckled trout and red fish fishing in the world. It’s as close to heaven as you’re going to get.”
All proceeds from the “Save Shell Beach Concert and Auction” will go in helping rebuild the marina as well as the community. Donations are tax-deductible through the non-profit Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). For more information about the event, visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/SaveShellBeach.