Five years following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, anglers who know how and where are catching plenty of fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Volunteers have rescued and rehabilitated thousands of seabirds, turtles, and dolphins. Crews have cleansed shorelines and marshes of black, oily scum.
But appearances can be deceiving. And much remains to be done for recovery to be significant and lasting.
“In our lifetimes, we won’t be able to say that the Gulf has recovered. It’s going to take generations,” said Amanda Fuller, deputy director of the Gulf of Mexico Restoration Program for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
Staff scientist Ryan Fykes echoed that sentiment, after helping prepare a report, “Five Years & Counting --- Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.”
“There is so much out there that we still do not know, primarily in the way of population-level impacts to species,” he said. “In order to fully understand the scale and severity of these impacts, it is critical that we continue to conduct long-term investigations into the impacts of the BP oil spill on wildlife.
“This will likely take decades of monitoring to accomplish, tracking impacts and recovery across generations and cohorts,” he added. “Until then, we are not able to say that there are no population-level impacts, rather that we just do not fully understand them yet.
“And just because we did not observe mass die-offs does not mean there may not be long-term detrimental effects on populations.”
But there is good news. Big money soon will be going to the five Gulf states for critical habitat restoration and water quality improvements. In fact, the amount could be historic, as settlement is reached with BP regarding its liability under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).
“We could see a ruling later this year, which will set the amount,” said Fuller, who added that it could exceed $13 billion.
Already some work is being done to restore marshes and sea grasses, as well as rebuild barrier islands and reduce erosion. Much of that effort has been funded by the Gulf Environmental Benefit Bund and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Early Restoration.
Most significantly, however, the RESTORE Act of 2012 will ensure that 80 percent of any CWA civil and administrative penalties paid by BP and other companies responsible for the disaster goes to the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund. That means each of the Gulf states will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to implement recovery plans, starting with Pot 1 for wildlife habitat restoration and improvement of water quality. This category also provides for “job creation” and “infrastructure projects,” which could allow expenditures “that sound good but that won’t help the Gulf --- and could even cause further degradation,” according to NWF.
That’s why Fuller emphasizes that citizens should help decide how each state spends its share of the money. “We want to give wildlife a voice. That’s why it’s important for sportsmen to get involved,” she said, adding that anglers and others should tell their governors to spend the funds on restoring the Gulf environment.
That includes bass fishermen, the deputy director emphasized. “The rivers that deliver fresh water to the Gulf’s bays and estuaries stand to benefit from the very legislation that was passed as a result of the oil spill,” she said. “Projects like restoring and protecting freshwater inflows and preserving coastal habitat will have have system-wide benefits that could enhance bass habitat as well as the Gulf’s estuaries.”
Additionally, without clean water and abundant habitat for fish, birds, and other species, the Gulf won’t draw millions of tourists annually and economies will suffer as a result.
“That’s why it makes all the sense in the world to ask state and federal decision makers to invest RESTORE Act dollars on restoring the Gulf ecosystem by ensuring enough freshwater reaches the Gulf’s bays and estuaries, protecting critical coastal habitat from development, and bettering our understanding of the marine environment,” Fuller said.
The following are examples of restoration projects already underway.
- With $34.5 million from the Gulf Environment Benefit Fund (GEBF), Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation acquired 17,351 acres from the Powderhorn Ranch. Acquisition includes more than 11 miles of tidal bay front with substantial sea grass beds and reefs that provide important nursery habitat for shrimp, crabs, and fish. Thousands of acres of diverse wetlands, potholes, and wet prairie also are included
- In Mississippi, $2.6 million from the GEBF is being used to plan strategies for protecting coastal streams and restoring associated habitat.
- In Louisiana, $14 million from Natural Resources Damage Assessment is being used for restoration of Barataria Hydrologic Basin in Plaquemines Parish. Primary goals include rehabilitation of eastern Lake Hermitage eastern shoreline to reduce erosion and prevent breaching into interior marsh and building marsh in open water.
How Fish Are Faring
NWF scientist Ryan Fykes provided the following snapshots of the spill’s effects on fish
• In 2010, oil was on the water surface during red snapper spawning season, and much of the red snapper’s range in the northern Gulf overlaps with the area of surface-oil distribution from the blowout.
• Both 2010 and 2011 had the lowest numbers of juvenile red snapper seen in the eastern Gulf fishery since 1994.
• An analysis of snapper populations in the Gulf done between 2011 and 2013 showed an unusual lack of younger snapper and point to a decline in red snapper growth rates after 2010.
• The livers of red snapper and other fish in 2011 and 2012 contained oil compounds with a strong resemblance to the oil from the Macondo well.
• A number of fish caught in the Gulf between eastern Louisiana and western Florida had unusual lesions or rotting fins Lesions, and were most common in bottom-dwelling species, including red snapper.
• Spotted seatrout spawned less frequently in 2011 in both Louisiana and Mississippi than in previous years.
• Laboratory studies on larval and juvenile spotted seatrout exposed to dispersed oil showed no difference in mortality but demonstrated a significant decrease in growth rates after 96 hours of exposure.
• Spotted seatrout from both states exhibited significant negative impacts on their reproductive potential when compared to previous years (before 2011).
• Female spotted seatrout in Mississippi exhibited development delays at the beginning of their reproductive season one year after the oil spill.
Historic Oil Spill
Believed to be the largest marine oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon spill began in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which was BP-owned and Transocean-operated, oil poured out of the sea floor for 87 days. An estimated 4.9 million gallons are believed to have contaminated the Gulf before the well was declared sealed on Sept. 19.
In the aftermath, cleanup crews removed 106,465 tons of “oily material” from Gulf shorelines by the end of 2013, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. At the same time, BP estimated that it already had spent $14 billion and 70 million personnel hours on cleanup and response.
(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)
"I've gone fishing thousands of times in my life, and I have never once felt unlucky or poorly paid for those hours on the water." -- William Tapply
“The difference between fly fishers and worm dunkers is the quality of their excuses.” -- Anonymous
“Scholars have long known that fishing eventually turns men into philosophers. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to buy decent tackle on a philosopher’s salary.” -- Patrick F. McManus
“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” -- Henry David Thoreau
“For the supreme test of a fisherman is not how many fish he has caught, not even how he has caught them, but what he has caught when he has caught no fish.” -- John H. Bradley
Next week, marine fisheries management will be the focus of Congress. Don’t assume your representative will cast his or her vote in favor of recreational fishing – ask him/her to do so today.
Bill H.R. 1335 will be voted on by the entire U.S. House of Representatives. Its intent is to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act – the law that governs how our marine fisheries are managed. Proper management equals healthy fisheries – and that means more days on the water for you and your family.
H.R. 1335 includes several provisions to improve fishing’s future. Specifically, it would improve recreational fishing data collection, ensure marine fisheries are fairly allocated and stop unnecessary closures based on arbitrary limits.
In addition, several amendments that will further improve the bill will also be considered.
Tell your Representative to Vote ‘yes’ on these amendments, and ‘yes’ on H.R. 1335! Go here to send your message.
Here's why your support is needed:
Saltwater recreational fishing has a $70 billion impact on our nation's economy, supporting 454,000 jobs. However, despite the tremendous economic, social and conservation benefits that recreational fishing provides to the nation, the Magnuson-Stevens Act has never fully addressed the needs of the nation's 11 million saltwater anglers. H.R. 1335 would help to turn the tide, and would be further improved by the inclusion of amendments to be considered on the House floor.
- Prompting a transparent and science-based review of fishery allocations in the southeast.
- Providing limited exceptions for establishing annual catch limits to help ensure important fisheries aren't unnecessarily closed.
- Improving recreational data collection through greater involvement of the states.
- An amendment by Rep. Wittman (R-Va.) that gives NOAA Fisheries the authority to implement management practices better tailored to the nature of recreational fishing.
- An amendment by Rep. Graves (R-La.) to transfer management of Gulf of Mexico red snapper to the five Gulf states, which are capable of sustainably managing this fishery while allowing for reasonable public access.
- An amendment by Rep. Young (R-Alaska) that will improve fisheries science by better incorporating data collected by anglers into management.
After outlasting a huge striped bass, Lawrence Dillman of Rockaway Beach became the most recent record-breaking angler in Missouri. The new “pole and line” record striped bass caught by Dillman on May 21 weighed 65 pounds, 2 ounces with a length of 49 ¾ inches and a girth of 36 inches. Dillman used 20-pound test line and a chub minnow to catch the behemoth at Bull Shoals.
“I fought the giant for over 45 minutes until I got him to shallow water,” Dillman said. “I then bear hugged the fish and got it out of the water on to the bank.”
The new giant broke the previous pole and line state-record striped bass of 60 pounds, 9 ounces caught on Bull Shoals Lake in 2011.
Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff verified the record-weight fish using a certified scale at the MDC Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery in Taney County.
“Once the fish was on the line, I knew I had a decent one, but I didn’t at all think it was a striped bass,” Dillman said. “I thought it was a spoonbill or something else. But when I got him to the bank I knew I had something amazing!”
Here's a story about an even larger striped bass that was caught on Bull Shoals a few years ago. In saltwater, meanwhile, the world record striper weighed more than 81 pounds and was caught in Long Island Sound in 2011.
Fisheries managers realized that stripers could be stocked in imoundments following the creation of South Carolina's Santee-Cooper system in the early 1940s. Biologists at first thought that stripers trapped behind the dams eventually would die-off. But they did not. Instead, they thrived.