cover image The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast

The Fishermen and the Dragon: Fear, Greed, and a Fight for Justice on the Gulf Coast

Kirk Wallace Johnson. Viking, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-984880-12-3

Two interrelated clashes along the Gulf Coast of Texas are recounted in this scrupulously reported saga. Journalist Johnson (The Feather Thief) details how, in the late 1970s, fisherman Billy Joe Aplin, frustrated by numerous personal setbacks and a failed effort to rally others in Seadrift, Tex., against industrial plants he believed were polluting local waters, fixated upon the region’s newly arrived Vietnamese fishermen as the source of his troubles. After instigating a series of confrontations, Aplin was shot dead by one of the Vietnamese fishermen; in retaliation, local whites burned houses and boats belonging to the Vietnamese and sought the support of the Texas Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. By the end of the 1980s, Johnson writes, the two sides had reached a “kind of grudging acceptance” of each other, even as toxic runoff and oil spills endangered their livelihoods. Local fisherwoman Diane Wilson launched a grassroots movement with the steadfast support of Seadrift’s Vietnamese community and ultimately won the largest settlement in U.S. history “stemming from a private citizen’s lawsuit against an industrial polluter.” Johnson’s exceptional research, including interviews with Aplin’s family, Klan sympathizers, and members of the Vietnamese community, allows him to marshal this sprawling history into a propulsive narrative. The result is a fascinating study of the forces roiling the Texas Gulf Coast and other parts of America. (Aug.)