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Unable to fish, lobster tanks remain empty weeks after California oil spill

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Posted at 3:59 PM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 17:40:02-04

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — At a floating fish market in southern California, October is synonymous with one thing.

"California spiny lobster is a huge part of what we do. It's one of the things the market was founded on all those years ago," said Terese Pearson, owner and operator of Pearson's Port Seafood Market in Newport Beach.

The family-run business celebrated 50 years during the pandemic.

"My husband has only ever been a fisherman," said Pearson. "As his wife, I'm so proud to be able to sell what he catches."

"I get land sick, I swear," said her husband, Tommy Pearson.

The seafood shack is a popular destination for the highly sought-after crustacean.

"Pretty much full speed all of October," said Tommy Pearson. "It's where you make it or break it over the whole year."

But more than three weeks into the lobster season, their tanks remain empty. Fishing in local waters remains at a standstill weeks after a pipeline leaked thousands of gallons of crude oil off the Huntington Beach coast.

According to officials, the leak originated from a broken pipeline connected to Oil Platform Elly, an oil rig located off the coast of Huntington Beach.

While lower than initial projections, the 25,000-gallon spill is costing nearby businesses.

"Couldn't have happened at a worse time," said Tommy Pearson.

State and federal officials are taking samples to ensure marine life is safe to eat.

"With the fish market, we're down 80 percent," said Terese Pearson. "We're just constantly apologizing to people for not having our local seafood that we've been furnishing to them for our 50 years in business."

She remains hopeful they'll have lobster by Christmas, but they're relying on imported fish to feed customers for now.

Terese Pearson spoke to lawmakers at a recent congressional hearing.

"There is money available for those businesses that are in harm's way; we are one of those businesses. But what I begged them for was not for money. I begged them for action," she said.

Businesses owners are calling for more urgency testing marine life and releasing toxicology reports.

Vipe Desai, a founding member of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Pacific Coast (BAPPC), also spoke at the hearing.

"After 18 long months of facing the challenge from the pandemic, an oil spill was the last thing our vibrant economic region needed to face," said Desai.

Business coalitions along the Pacific, Atlantic, and Florida Gulf Coast call lawmakers to ban new offshore drilling in U.S. waters permanently.

"Individual retailers, the mom-and-pop businesses, they suffer the most," Desai said at the hearing. "The impact is immediate."

The Pearson's are putting their fate in trust built over decades.

"We will live through this too," said Terese Pearson. "It's just timing."