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Fish, Dolphins, Turtles Continue as Casualties of Oil Spill

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, consequences for fish and wildlife weren’t nearly as disastrous in the Gulf of Mexico as I feared they would be.  Still, they weren’t good.

And they still aren’t. No one is suggesting that the coastal states aren't open for tourism business or that the fishing isn't good, but some species still are being harmed.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Dolphins are still dying in high numbers in the areas affected by oil. These ongoing deaths—particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin—are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster looks at how different species of wildlife across the northern Gulf are faring in the wake of the oil disaster:

  • Dolphin deaths in the area affected by oil have remained above average every month since just before the spill began. Infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of 2013.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called the dolphin die-off “unprecedented”—a year ago. While NOAA is keeping many elements of its dolphin research confidential pending the conclusion of the ongoing trial, the agency has ruled out the most common causes of previous dolphin die-offs.
  • More than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012—the last date for which information is available. For comparison, on average about 240 sea turtles are stranded annually.
  • A coral colony seven miles from the wellhead was badly damaged by oil. A recent laboratory study found that the mixture of oil and dispersant affected the ability of some coral species to build new parts of a reef.
  • Scientists found that the oil disaster affected the cellular function of the killifish, a common baitfish at the base of the food web. A recent laboratory study found that oil exposure can also harm the development of larger fish such as mahi mahi. 

“The oil disaster highlighted the gaps in our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Ian MacDonald, professor of Oceanography at Florida State University.

“What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years. In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster’s impacts. For example, we know that some important coral communities were damaged, but funding for the necessary follow up has not been there.”

The report’s release comes as BP and the other companies responsible for the disaster are on trial in federal court for violations of multiple environmental laws. The report describes different sources of restoration funding resulting from the disaster and provides initial suggestions for how this money can be used to improve the outlook for the species discussed in the report.

“Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over,” said David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program.

 “In 2012 six million pounds of tar mat and contaminated material from the BP spill were cleaned up from Louisiana’s coast. Justice will only be served when BP and its co-defendants pay to restore the wildlife and habitats of the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.”

Other oil disasters have taken years to reveal their full effects, and often recovery remains incomplete after decades. To date, the disaster response has focused on removing the visible oil, but little has been done to tackle the region’s long-standing habitat degradation and water quality problems—issues that were exacerbated by the oil disaster.

“I’ve always considered myself truly fortunate to make a living fishing these waters,” said Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, a lodge and charter boat operation in Buras, Louisiana. “Right now, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this ecosystem back on its feet, but we need to make sure we use the money from BP’s penalties on projects that will improve the health of the Gulf in the long run. That’s the best way to restore our economy, and it is the best way to make sure our children have the opportunity to enjoy this region as we have for decades.”


Giant Barracuda Could Be World Record

Photo from Sport Fishing, courtesy of Iain Nicolson

At any size, a barracuda is an impressive predator with its sleek body and mouth filled with daggerlike teeth.

But how about one that tops 100 pounds? And is nearly 7 feet long?

That’s just what Thomas Gibson of Houston caught while fishing for tarpon in Angola. The fish is a Guinean barracuda, not the great barracuda that most U.S. anglers know about and, if approved by the IGFA, it could be a world record.

Read more at Sport Fishing.


Maine Loon-atics Join New Hampshire in Attempt to Ban Lead Fishing Tackle

Maine legislators seem to have postponed their attempt to ban plastic baits until next year. But some have decided to join their “loon-atic” friends in New Hampshire in an attempt to ban lead weights and jigs of one ounce or less.

The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) reports that SB 268 was heard today in the Joint Committee on Inland Fisheries.

Introduced by Senator Anne Haskell, SB 268 would make it illegal to sell or use lead sinkers and jigs weighing one ounce or less, and measuring 2.5 inches or less in length.

“The primary concern surrounding the use of lead sinkers and jigs is the potential effects on waterfowl, like the loon, that ingest whole pebbles to aid in the digestion of their food,” CSF says.

“Although there have been documented individual loon deaths linked directly to lead fishing sinkers, there has been no documented evidence that lead fishing sinkers, of any size, have a detrimental impact on local or regional loon populations. In fact, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, loon populations are either stable or are increasing across the nation.

“Imposing additional restrictions on the use of lead sinkers in Maine is not biologically justified, would place an undue economic burden on the anglers who fish Maine's waters, and would supersede the long-standing authority of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife - the recognized fish and wildlife experts for the state of Maine - to manage the state's fish and wildlife resources.” 


BCI Helps Forge New Management Plan for Columbia River Salmon Fisheries

Photo from

Those who fish for warmwater species might be a bit perplexed by the concept of “redesigning” fisheries. That’s because user conflicts typically are not a consideration in management of bass, catfish, and crappie.

But out in the Northwest, where salmon are more prized than gold, it’s big news when a new allocation system is even considered --- much less implemented. That’s why what Oregon and Washington have agreed to do regarding management of salmon stocks in the lower Columbia River is historic.

“This is a big deal,” said Jim Martin, conservation director of the Berkley Conservation Institute (BCI). “It has been 40 years since the last major change in this fishery, and we have been intensely pushing this idea for more than 5 years. Finally, the governor of Oregon endorsed it and put new commissioners on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. And now we have the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in agreement.

“When implemented, the plan will substantially improve the economics of sportfishing in the Columbia River area and will be better for the conservation of wild fish as well.”

Although commercial fishermen and their allies opposed and continue to rail against the redesign, strong popular support convinced state officials that it was time for a change. “I give a lot of credit to the Coastal Conservation Association,” Martin said. “It brought the issue to a head.”

Other BCI allies included Trout Unlimited, Association of Northwest Steelheaders, Northwest Guides and Anglers Association, and Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

For BCI, a part of Pure Fishing, campaigning on behalf of the redesign was a natural. “For us, conservation is job No. 1 and the economy is job No. 2,” said Martin, former Oregon fisheries chief. “Any time that you can improve both, you do it.”

The conservation director added that this plan for the lower Columbia --- to be phased in by 2017 --- serves as an example of what can be done with red snapper, summer flounder and other mixed marine fisheries around the country.

"We are wasting economic value,” he said. “Why allocate half to outdated, obsolete fisheries?”

Martin pointed out that allocation between recreation and commercial fisheries always has been a difficult issue because of competing views regarding economics, efficiency, and fairness. “In my experience of 44 years in the fisheries management business, I have found few issues that are as potentially powerful in increasing net economic benefits to regional/national economics and supporting more jobs . . . and as universally avoided by managers,” he said.

What is the plan for the lower Columbia that could spark a sea change and why are four years required for full implementation?

“A couple of key assumptions have to be tested,” Martin explained.

First, the plan calls for commercial gill-netters to be moved off the main river channel and into the bays and sloughs, where almost half of their catch already occurs. Managers intend to increase the number of smolts stocked in those backwaters, and their harvest, when they return as adults, would compensate commercials for not fishing in the channel.

“They (commercial fishermen) are saying that it won’t work, and we are saying that it will. So we’ll test that assumption,” the conservation director said.

Additionally, purse seines and beach seines will be allowed for commercial harvest in the main river --- at least that is the hope. Their use already is legal in Washington waters, but Oregon still must pass a bill to legalize them. Decades ago, they were been banned, mostly because gill-netters, a powerful political force, viewed their use as competition and opposed them.

“The number of gill-netters has decreased tremendously over the years,” Martin explained. “There were 500 of them 20 years ago, but about 225 with legal permits now. Only about 125 are actively fishing and 30 to 40 make significant landings.”

Still, they enjoy support out of proportion to the economic benefits that they provide their communities. “For a lot of local communities, they are ‘their’ guys, while they see this redesign as being pushed by greedy sportsmen from Portland,” Martin said.

“In reality, they benefit more from the sportsmen, but they see commercials as having the real jobs and recreational fishing as a hobby. To get something like this done, you have to fight politics.”

You also have to work within the confines of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the hope is that this can be more efficiently achieved with purse and beach seines.

Under the ESA, a small percentage of mortality is allowed for protected species, such as spring Chinook. But once that “impact” target is reached, the fishery must be shut down.

“When that happens, not even hatchery fish can be caught, and so they go unharvested,” Martin said. “Right now, impacts are costing of millions of dollars annually (in lost revenue).”

Because they are not as lethal as gill nets, the seines will allow for selective harvest of hatchery fish, while protected wild fish that are captured inadvertently can be released unharmed. That means “impact” is not achieved as quickly and the season can be extended for sport fishing.

“Commercials say that this won’t work either. But we will test it to make sure that it does,” the conservation director explained.

An estimated 1.43 million hatchery-raised and wild salmon enter the Columbia each year. In 2011, about 200 gill-net boats caught 137,000 worth $4.72 million. By contrast, about 350,000 trips by recreational anglers resulted in 142,000 salmon caught, but with an estimated $22 million spent on food, travel, lodging, and tackle.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife predicts that by moving commercial fishermen to improved off-channel areas and increasing access to fall Chinook in the main river (with purse and beach seines), the value of their catch will increase by 15 percent during the next four years. Concurrently, it says, the number of angler trips will grow by 22 percent.

“This plan will increase sport fishing by 20 to 40 percent in the Columbia River,” Martin added. “Even though they don’t like it, commercials will be better off too.

“There are not many opportunities to do reallocations and redesigns to increase economic benefits that much and still be fair to commercials,” he continued. With this, we think that their benefits will increase.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer Magazine.)



Feds Say 'Pshaw!' to Asian Carp Threat

The frustration of watching a government that won’t acknowledge a threat to one of the world’s most valuable freshwater systems is perfectly captured by Chris Evans in “Trying hard not to find Asian Carp.”

Check it out at

Here’s an excerpt:

“Lt. Col. Jim Schreiner of the corps is quoted as stating: 'We are taking a prudent approach in considering the threat as real.'

“No, you're not. You're wasting millions of tax dollars and valuable time to discredit the very real and immediate threat these plankton predators pose to the Great Lakes.

“More than 30 million people depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water. The lakes float a $7.5-billion-dollar commercial fishing industry and 800,000 jobs. In Ohio alone, tourism on Lake Erie generates $11.5 billion annually and supports 117,000 jobs, according to a July 2012 survey funded in part by the state tourism office.

“These fragile liquid assets are as critical to the economy as the auto industry. Obama supported and continued the bail out of GM and Chrysler without batting an eye. But he turns a blind eye to carp encroaching on the Great Lakes. Why? Apparently, he believes it is more politically expedient to pander to his Illinois maritime cronies, who oppose the only sure solution: hydrological separation of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes basins.”