Monday, May 31, 2010

The Fishermen and the Tax Man

From LA

BP's request for tax records poses a problem for some residents of fishing communities in southeastern Louisiana — the nonconformists who haven't kept records or reported their cash income.

The first step for a commercial fisherman or coastal business seeking compensation for losses suffered in the oil spill seems simple enough: Submit copies of a commercial fishing license, proof of residence and tax statements.

But the request for tax records poses a serious challenge to some residents of close-knit fishing communities on the swampy edges of southeastern Louisiana, which for generations have harbored self-reliant nonconformists who don't pay much heed to everyday rules and regulations.

In other words, they often get paid in cash — and don't always report it.

"I worked for an uncle last year who paid me in cash," said a crab fisherman who asked to remain anonymous. "The BP guy wanted my tax statements, but how can I pay taxes if everything I earned was in cash?"

Many people involved in the seasonal harvesting of shrimp, crabs, oysters and fish — boat washers, fishermen, crab cookers, deckhands, dockworkers — said they felt caught by a pincer of environmental devastation and an assistance program that could expose them to the tax man.

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