Fishermen Concerned About Seafood 4 Years After Gulf Oil Spill

By Rhonda J. Miller on April 27, 2014 8:47 PM EDT

Fishermen Concerned About Restoration of Fisheries Since Gulf Oil Spill
Fishermen who work in the Gulf of Mexico said some of the fisheries have not been restored in the four years since the BP oil spill on April 20, 2010. Concerned fishermen and environmental groups gathered at Back Bay in Biloxi, Mississippi on April 17, 2014 to voice their concerns. (Photo: Gulf Restoration Network / Rhonda J. Miller)

Four years after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people and BP's Macondo well gushed 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, some fishermen on the Gulf Coast are concerned that oysters and other fisheries have not been restored to previous levels.

 "We believe this disaster has greatly impacted the ability of fisheries to spawn. They're not catching what they used to. We believe that the spawning ability has been greatly impacted," said Thao Vu, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Coalition of Vietnamese-American Fisherfolk and Families during a gathering of fishermen on Back Bay in Biloxi, Miss. on April 17, marking the fourth year since the BP spill, WLOX-TV reported.

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In Grand Isle, Louisiana, oil is still washing up on the beaches, according to an April 18 report by ReutersJules Melancon, a Grand Isle oysterman said he had not found a single oyster alive in his leased areas since the oil leaked into the Gulf and he relies on an onshore nursery to make a living.

A new report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, presented concerns about a number of species. The report, "Deepwater Horizon crude oil impacts the developing hearts of large predatory pelagic fish" — which are fish that don't live near the bottom or near the shore — found heart issues in many fish. Researchers determined it was a result of oil from the Macondo well. Lead investigator on the study was John Incardona, a developmental biologist and toxicologist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Wash.

 "For each species, environmentally relevant MC252 oil exposures caused serious defects in heart development," according to the study. "Moreover, abnormalities in cardiac function were highly consistent, indicating a broadly conserved developmental crude oil cardiotoxicity. Losses of early life stages were therefore likely for Gulf populations of tunas, amberjack, swordfish, billfish, and other large predators that spawned in oiled surface habitats."

Since the spill on April 20, 2010, BP has been conducting extensive clean-up activities in the Gulf states impacted by the spill.

In an April 15 statement, BP announced that "The U.S. Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on the final three shorelines miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon accident," according BP's corporate online press center.  "These operations ended in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi in June 2013."

"Reaching this milestone is the result of the extraordinary efforts of thousands of people from BP, local communities, government agencies and academic institutions working together," said John Mingé, chairman and president of BP America. "Immediately following the Deepwater Horizon accident, BP committed to cleaning the shoreline and supporting the Gulf's economic and environmental recovery. Completing active cleanup is further indication that we are keeping that commitment."

"The large-scale cleanup effort, combined with early restoration projects and natural recovery processes, is helping the Gulf return to its baseline condition, which is the condition it would be in if the accident had not occurred," according to the BP announcement.

 "BP has spent more than $14 billion and more than 70 million personnel hours on response and cleanup activities,"Laura Folse, BP's executive vice president for response and environmental restoration, said in the announcement. "Even though active cleanup has ended, we will keep resources in place to respond quickly at the Coast Guard's direction if potential Macondo oil is identified and requires removal."

Oysters have been hardest hit in the aftermath of the oil spill, according to Reuters. That's because they are immobile and unable to swim away from the oil, and also because of freshwater diversions opened along the Mississippi River to keep oil from seeping in to Louisiana wetlands.

Al Sunseri, who runs P&J Oysters with his brother Sal in the French Quarter in New Orleans, said processors have been hit hard and the company now employees one part-time oyster shucker, compared to 11 before the spill. Sunseri said his business is handling 15 percent of the total local shrimp he handled before the spill. He said the shrimp either swam away from the oil or were killed or mutated by the spill and its aftermath.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tested thousands of samples of seafood for a substantial amount of time after the spill and declared it safe to eat.

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