On his dock along the banks of Bayou Yscloskey, Darren Stander makes the pelicans dance.
More than a dozen of the birds have landed or hopped onto the dock, where Stander takes in crabs and oysters from the fishermen who work the bayou and Lake Borgne at its mouth. The pelicans rock back and forth, beaks rising and falling, as he waves a bait fish over their heads.
At least he's got some company. There's not much else going on at his dock these days. There used to be two or three people working with him; now he's alone. The catch that's coming in is light, particularly for crabs.
"Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that," said Stander, 26.
Out on the water, the chains clatter along the railing of George Barisich's boat as he and his deckhand haul dredges full of oysters onto the deck. As they sort them, they're looking for signs of "spat": the young oysters that latch onto reefs and grow into marketable shellfish.
There's the occasional spat here; there are also a few dead oysters, which make a hollow sound when tapped with the blunt end of a hatchet.
About two-thirds of U.S. oysters come from the Gulf Coast, the source of about 40% of America's seafood catch. But in the three years since the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank about 80 miles south of here, fishermen say many of the oyster reefs are still barren, and some other commercial species are harder to find.
"My fellow fishermen who fish crab and who fish fish, they're feeling the same thing," Barisich said. "You get a spike in production every now and then, but overall, it's off. Everybody's down. Everywhere there was dispersed oil and heavily oiled, the production is down."
The April 20, 2010, explosion sent 11 men to a watery grave off Louisiana and uncorked an undersea gusher nearly a mile beneath the surface that took three months to cap.
Most of the estimated 200 million gallons of oil that poured into the Gulf of Mexico is believed to have evaporated or been broken down by hydrocarbon-munching microbes, according to government estimates.
The rest washed ashore across 1,100 miles of coastline, from the Louisiana barrier islands west of the Mississippi River to the white sands of the Florida Panhandle. A still-unknown portion settled on the floor of the Gulf and the inlets along its coast.
Tar balls are still turning up on the beaches, and a 2012 hurricane blew seemingly fresh oil ashore in Louisiana.
Well owner BP, which is responsible for the cleanup, says it's still monitoring 165 miles of shore. The company points to record tourism revenues across the region and strong post-spill seafood catches as evidence the Gulf is rebounding from the spill.
But in the fishing communities of southeastern Louisiana, people say that greasy tide is still eating away at their livelihoods.
"Things's changing, and we don't know what's happening yet," said oysterman Byron Encalade.
Life before the spill
Before the spill, Encalade and his neighbors in the overwhelmingly African-American community of Pointe a la Hache -- about 25 miles south of Yscloskey -- earned their living from the state-managed oyster grounds off the East Bank of the Mississippi.
Back then, a boat could head out at dawn and be back at the docks by noon with dozens of 105-pound sacks of oysters.
Now? "Nothing," says Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association.
Louisiana conservation officials have dumped fresh limestone, ground-up shell and crushed concrete on many of the reefs in a bid to foster new growth.
It takes three to five years for a viable reef to develop, so that means Pointe a la Hache could be looking at 2018 -- eight years after the spill -- before its lifeblood starts pumping again.
"This economy is totally gone in my community," said Encalade, 59. "There is no economy. The two construction jobs that are going on -- the prison and the school -- if it weren't for those, the grocery store would be closing."
When the catch comes in, everyone wants you to know that it's safe to eat. Repeated testing has shown that the traces of hydrocarbons that do come up in the shrimp, crab and oysters are far below safety limits for human consumption.
"The monitoring of the seafood supply has been exemplary," said Steve Murawski, a fisheries biologist at the University of South Florida. "There's no incidence of people getting sick and no report of any tainted fish reaching the market."
While much of the Gulf's seafood industry has rebounded, the hardest-hit communities like Pointe a la Hache, Yscloskey and the inlets in Barataria Bay, west of the Mississippi, have not recovered.