The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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The Gulf Oil Spill and Your Fish

The Gulf Oil Spill and Your Fish

In the News

May 23, 2010

The future of your fish may be at stake in the latest environmental disaster to hit this nation. Oil has been gushing out an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day from a well head into the Gulf of Mexico since a BP digging rig caught fire, toppled, and sunk some 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana in April. With tarballs landing on beaches in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, officials have shut down fishing in the affected areas.

Some experts now estimate that the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico may be at least 10 times the size of initial estimates. These findings suggest that the BP spill is already greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which spilled more than 250,000 barrels of oil. 

Currently, about 45,728 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico – or approximately 20% of the available fishing areas there – are closed to fishing. The closed area now also includes parts of the northern portion of the loop current as a precautionary measure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service is closely monitoring the movement of the spill to ensure fisher and consumer safety without needlessly restricting productive fisheries in unaffected areas. Fisherman have been advised not to fish in areas where oil or oil sheens are present, as fish and shellfish obtained under these conditions could be contaminated with hydrocarbons above baseline levels.

Unfortunately, damage to the fishing industry could extend well beyond the initial clean up efforts and future impact on the industry could be extensive. Shrimp, in particular, have an uphill battle ahead of them, as many shrimp species begin migration this time of year. Finfish may suffer greatly as well, especially those on the surface where the oil is hovering. Reef fish could avoid impact if the slick remains on the surface. If it sinks, however, the majority of the 42 reef fish species managed in the Gulf could be impacted, including Juvenile red snapper which is common on the mud bottoms in the northern Gulf and extremely valuable.

Other area worries are just weeks away as hurricane season kicks off on June 1st. Henry Margusity, a meteorologist for, says a tropical storm or hurricane at this point in the oil clean up process could be devastating for the fishing industry and area residents alike.

“We all have our fingers crossed that we don’t get an early storm before they get all the oil cleaned up. It’s warm in the Gulf right now, and that can breed a storm quickly. Strong winds could spray oil all over the place, into fishing areas and onto land. We could be looking at a monumental disaster on top of the one we already have.”

Commercial fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico harvested 1.27 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008, earning $659 million in total landing revenue. Gulf shrimp accounted for 73% of the national total with 188.3 million pounds.