Louisiana Oystermen: Out of Work, Out of Options
(On Earth) — Elton “Hambone” Encalade is one of the first oystermen to greet me as I pull into Beshel’s Boat Launch in Pointe-a-la-Hache, Louisiana. He’s sitting on a plastic milk crate that seems too flimsy to support his muscular frame. Hambone has high cheekbones, a beard flecked with gray, and a gaze that is unrelenting. He wears his red baseball cap backward and a tight matching T-shirt. When I arrive at 1 p.m., he and his friends have already emptied a considerable number of beer cans, which lie crushed on the ground amids the oyster shells. This is not where you’d normally find the African-American oystermen of Pointe-a-la-Hache on a Friday afternoon in October. Depending on the dates of oyster season, they’d either be on their boats, pulling 12-hour shifts that on decent days earn them $100 each, or preparing for the season’s imminent opening. Hambone, who turns 53 next month, dropped out of high school to dredge oysters when he was 16 or 17. There was never any question about what he’d do for a living.