Good News! BP says the Gulf of Mexico is once again healthy just two years after the Horizon well exploded and leaked more than 200 million gallons of oil into the ocean. In fact, “the grandeur of the Gulf is steadily returning” writes Mike Utsler, president of BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization in an April op-ed in the Alabama Press Register.
Whew! That’s a relief. And here many of us were worried about marine life, seafood and the fishing industry long term.
But then again, what should we make of a recent report from the Associated Press that suggests things are far from a state of grandeur? A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution article notes that the AP analysis of 2011 fishing data (the first full year since the 2010 spill) shows a dramatic drop in prime seafood catch numbers.
Here’s the gist:
- The fall shrimp season dropped from an average of 18.1 million pounds to 11.1 million pounds in Louisiana’s Barataria estuary, one of the hardest hit shorelines.
- The blue crab catch in the same area dropped from an average of 9.5 million pounds to 6.8 million pounds.
- Mississippi’s shrimpers reported a 13 percent drop in catch volume, and the state’s crabbers said their harvest was down 52 percent.
- Alabama’s oyster haul was down 50 percent.
It’s still too early to tell definitively how much, if it all, the oil spill directly contributed to these poor fishing reports. Indeed, fishermen are making close to the same amount of money on their catch as before the storm. But that likely stems from the fact that prices are so high due to the reduced availability of the seafood. For the most part, Gulf fishermen don’t seem to be too happy about the significant drop-off and future prospects.
Then there are the recent reports of weird and scary marine wildlife anomalies. Shrimp with no eyes and tumors poking out of their exoskeletons have shown up in trawl nets. Dolphins have washed up dead on Gulf of Mexico beaches more than eight times the normal rate with a variety of abnormal conditions. While some researchers think the oil is to blame, actually proving that is very challenging.
This quote from the article speaks volumes: “Recent studies have found higher numbers of sick fish close to where BP’s well blew out and genome studies of bait fish in Barataria have identified abnormalities. Meanwhile, vast areas of the cold and dark Gulf seafloor are oiled, scientists say.”
So what are we to make of BP’s rosy picture? At best it’s a thinly veiled attempt to see the glass as half full. At worst, it’s greenwashing to the nth degree aimed at adjusting public opinion to make sure we keep buying its gas and support continued, environmentally dangerous deepwater drilling.
Even local politicians are drinking the Kool-Aid®. Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana posted this gem in a press release on his website: “The good news is that I don’t think anyone would have predicted that the Gulf would have rebounded to where it is today. That goes for our tourism industry, which is thriving, and of course our Gulf seafood, which is as safe and delicious as ever.”
I grew up fishing the bayous around Chef Menteur and Lake Borgne in a 12-foot wooden skiff with my dad. I have fond memories of putting a few speckled trout, flounder or redfish in the live well over the years. So I have a keen interest in what’s going on in my old home waters. I feel for the commercial fishermen and the seafood shops and restaurants fighting to get back on track.
In the end, the criminal trials of low-level BP officials along with the $20 billion compensation package to fishermen (many of whom have not yet been able to collect) will have little effect on the timeframe for the Gulf’s recovery. They will have little effect on the near-term future of the marine ecosystems trying to bounce back. And they will have little effect on the catch rates and diseased seafood fishermen are reporting.
Nor will the multi-million-dollar ad campaign to sugar coat the bumpy recovery affect the lives of those who depend on the resource the most.
I’m not buying it.
By Colles Stowell
GreenFish – By Anglers | For Fish