Discuss as:

Oyster farmers fear for their way of life

Here’s what surprised me the most about my trip to the Gulf this week. I had no idea there was a whole community of hundreds of Croatian-American families whose heritage and tradition are wrapped up in oyster farming in the Bayou.

Since the 1800s, fathers have passed down to their sons the skills to make a good living on the oyster beds. It’s a year-round process of seeding, cultivating and harvesting oysters. They’re invested heavily in it. It is all they know.

At the coffee shop every morning, the older generation gathers to get ready for the day, shooting the breeze in their native Croatian tongue. Normally, they would head out early on their boats, spending 12 hours or more on the water.

But not now.

Their oyster beds are off limits. There’s just too much oil in the water.

And they’re worried a long tradition may end with this generation.

“BP ruined it for me,” 32-year-old Mathew Lepetich told me the other day as we sat on his boat.

I could see the stress in his face. He’s worried about his future.

Kate Snow's report airs Dateline NBC Friday, 9 p.m./8C as part of the NBC Special report "Disaster in the Gulf." Watch it here. Follow Kate on Twitter and Facebook here.