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Entries in oil spill (16)

Wednesday
Dec172014

Vanishing Paradise Champions Gulf Coast Restoration

The Gulf Coast was imperiled even before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.  

That’s because erosion and saltwater intrusion are destroying wetlands and marshes in the Mississippi River Delta and have been for decades, mostly because of manmade alterations and degradations. In 2009, that realization prompted the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited to unite to awaken Congress and the nation to the crisis through the Vanishing Paradise (VP) coalition.

As a result of that serendipitous timing, fish, waterfowl, sportsmen, and coastal communities have a champion in their corner today as BP pays billions for damage inflicted upon the Gulf. With more than 800 fishing and hunting businesses and organizations supporting its mission, VP wants that money used to restore and enhance those wetlands and marshes, as well as mitigate the environmental damage done by the oil spill all along the coast.

“We engaged heavily to get anglers and hunters to Washington, D.C. to talk to their legislators and help pass important legislation,” said Steve Bender, VP director. “And it worked. We delivered the RESTORE Act.”

A volunteer Advisory Council and Conservation Pro Staff deserve much of the credit not only for passage of the act but for promoting the campaign and educating the public about the coastal crisis, he added.

The 2011 RESTORE the Gulf Coast Act allocates a portion of the funds equally to the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic recovery, and establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop and fund a plan for recovery. It also establishes an endowment that includes funding for fisheries stock assessments and ecosystem monitoring.

“Since then, we’ve been focusing on restoration,” Bender continued. “We’ve been asked to expand our scope (from the Delta) into the Gulf.

“Louisiana already had a master plan. And now that other states are receiving dollars, we are working on getting that money spent on coastal recovery and economic restoration. We have policy specialists in those states, and we’re going to expand angler and hunter outreach.”

Ground Zero for protection and restoration work, however, remains the Delta at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Louisiana’s coast. This vast wetlands area is critical as spawning and nursery grounds for fish and overwintering habitat for much of the nation’s waterfowl. And since the 1930s, an estimated 1,880 square miles of habitat has been lost.

“Given the importance of so many of south Louisiana’s natural assets --- its waterways, natural resources, and unique culture, and wetlands --- this land loss crisis is nothing short of a national emergency, one that takes a daily toll on the lives of coastal residents,” said the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which developed the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

In Louisiana, what it all boils down to is trying to stop the destruction and implement a system that mimics, as much as possible,  the natural process interrupted by development --- a system that will restore wetlands and marshes for fish and wildlife, while providing protection for coastal communities from saltwater intrusion.

Why is this needed? The reasons are many, according to VP, but one of the most significant is that the Mississippi River “has been straitjacketed with huge levees as part of a national program to ‘control’ the river and protect communities and economic infrastructure from flooding.”

But wetlands were built and sustained by sediment delivered by the river, and cutting them off with levees stopped new growth, allowing for saltwater intrusion that kills them.

“Without land-building deposits from the river, the Delta is doomed to continue sinking beneath the water, endangering the people, wildlife, and jobs that depend on these healthy resources,” VP said.

According to the master plan, restoration and protection projects will focus on sediment diversion, marsh creation, bank stabilization, structural and shoreline protection, and hydrologic, barrier island, and ridge restoration. Unfortunately,  proposed diversions have generated opposition from some, who otherwise support the plan. That’s because sediment-carrying sediment, which will rebuild marshes, also will move saltwater species back toward the Gulf.

It’s easy to understand their point of view: They don’t want to surrender any of their fishing grounds, including those created by man’s interference with a natural system. But such a view is short-sighted, since the continued health of both freshwater and saltwater fisheries is dependent on freshwater and sediment. If saltwater continues to encroach, nearly all nursery habitat will be lost and redfish and trout will decline, along with bass and catfish.

“The problem in Louisiana is we’re addicted to salt because that salt brings tremendous benefits in fisheries,” explained Robert Twilley, a coastal scientist at Louisiana State University.

Every year, he cautioned, that artificial fishery moves closer to the river than nature ever intended.

Along the Mississippi at Buras, a stark contrast highlights the importance of using freshwater diversions, explained Ryan Lambert, a VP supporter and owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures. On the west side, which receives little to no freshwater, only open water and dead marsh grass remains. On the east side, where freshwater flows, the wetlands are alive and thriving.

In that area, he added, “bass fishermen and redfish fishermen go to the same place to catch fish. From Buras down to the mouth of the Mississippi is the best fishing in North America.

“You can’t just pump in sediment,” he said. “You have to have freshwater too (for sustained fisheries).”

Lambert pointed out that the Davis Pond Diversion, where Kevin VanDam won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, is no longer a viable fishery because diversion flow has been reduced. “Saltwater has come in and killed the grass,” he said. “There are no bass, no brim, no crappie, no catfish, and no duck habitat. And it’s all because they want to grow oysters there.”

As work goes forward, Bender emphasized that the master plan is not just about diversion and VP wants to work with all stakeholders, including those who oppose that aspect. “We want to limit the impacts on folks who might be hurt,” he said. “We need to find a way to work together.

“But we also feel strongly that you have to let the river do what it does naturally.

“Gov. (Bobby) Jindal has been very supportive of restoration, and we’re hoping that the new governor coming in will be the same,” Bender said. “We have more partnerships on the horizon and a new campaign coming up in Louisiana soon.”

(This article appeared originally in Fishing Tackle Retailer.)

Thursday
Sep112014

Recreational Fishing Losses From Deepwater Horizon Estimated at $585 Million

Recreational angling took a hit of up to $585 million from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. That’s the estimated value of lost fishing opportunities according to a new University of Florida study.

Researchers studied three types of anglers: those who fished from shore, those who piloted private or rental boats offshore, and those who paid for guide boats to take them fishing. They assigned an economic value for each of the three types of trips.

The researchers found that anglers fishing from shore and those that hire fishing guides lost the most, an average of $29.65 and $34.27 per trip, perhaps because they are less able to change their fishing conditions. Those who pilot their own boats lost the least at $2.23 per trip.

Researchers took data collected from interviews with saltwater anglers by NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program, which regularly surveys anglers on their catch. Each year approximately 40 million trips are taken in the U.S. Southeast.

They used about 70,000 fishing trips each year for five years, 2006 to 2010, to learn how each type of anglers changed fishing trips to avoid closures in federal fisheries following the oil spill. They arrived at the $585 million figure by multiplying the per-trip losses for each type of trip by the number of affected fishing trips, which was assumed to be for the year as if anglers could re-plan their trips to avoid closures, Larkin said.

The UF study is the first research study to estimate recreational fishing losses following such a large oil spill.

After a disaster such as an oil spill, trustees -- which could include federal, state or tribal authorities -- often attempt to secure financial compensation from those responsible.

In the Gulf oil spill, those monies would not go back to individual fishermen, but instead might fund ecosystem improvements or to stock more fish in the Gulf on the fishermen’s behalf, said UF food and resource economics professor Sherry Larkin.

In December 2012, BP agreed to pay $2.3 billion to commercial fishermen, seafood boat captains and crew, seafood vessel owners and oyster leaseholders, but trustees have yet to seek compensation on behalf of recreational fishermen.

“These are sizable losses borne by recreational users of publicly owned resources,” said Larkin, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member. Because the oil spill affected thousands of square miles of fisheries, trustees could try to compensate for everyone who uses the Gulf in the future, Larkin said.

The study covers fishing areas off the coasts of Louisiana to Florida and up to North Carolina.

In Florida, following the oil spill, fishermen who normally might have gone to Pensacola, for example, would either not fish or might instead head to the Atlantic Coast, Larkin said.

UF/IFAS researchers used an economic formula that uses the cost of accessing a recreational activity, primarily travel costs, to assess the activity’s value.

At 206 million gallons, the Deepwater Horizon was the largest marine oil spill in history. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, trustees can recover public losses from responsible parties. Larkin said she does not know if the UF study will ever be used in legal cases against BP, Deepwater Horizon or other potentially responsible parties.

The study authors emphasize their model only depicts losses for recreational fishermen, not commercial fishermen, hotels, restaurants, retail establishments that lost money after the BP oil spill. It also doesn’t measure ecosystem losses.

The study appeared online in July in the Journal of Environmental Management.

Friday
Sep052014

Judge Rules BP Grossly Negligent in Gulf Oil Spill

BP could be fined the largest penalty ever levied under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

That’s because U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier recently ruled that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico occurred because of the company’s gross negligence, meaning BP could be liable for as much as $18 billion in pollution fines.

 That amount is far more than the $3.5 billion that the company had set aside and, according to the Wall Street Journal, “would easily exceed the biggest previous fine under the statute.”

That amount was based on BP’s belief that the court would rule the company liable for simple negligence. But a verdict of gross negligence means a fine of as much as $4,300 for each barrel of crude oil spilled in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The judge could decide on lower penalties per barrel, but still the amount is likely to surpass the previous CWA record of $1 billion paid by Transocean Ltd, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

“More than four years after the BP oil disaster, today’s ruling is a vital step towards restoring important waterfowl and fishing habitat for the next generation of sportsmen and women,” said Vanishing Paradise, a coalition of about 800 hunting and fishing organizations advocating for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta and the gulf.

“The oil spill tarnished hundreds of miles of coastline and marshes important to fresh and saltwater fishing and waterfowling. The areas most damaged by the spill cannot wait any longer for restoration to begin. Recreational fishing is a critical component of the Gulf economy generating $8 billion annually.

“In Louisiana alone, some 10 million ducks, geese and other waterfowl winter along the coast and depend on healthy marshes. We must invest penalty monies in real restoration projects that clean up and restore the waters and coastal habitat that are the backbone of the Gulf region’s economy.”

Monday
Aug252014

Sharks, Dead Zones, Oil Spills, and Other Realities

Remember the mayor in the movie “Jaws”? He didn’t care about the reality. He cared about the perception, even though people were dying.

Some in the fishing community are that way too, I think, based on my experience writing about issues that they don’t want to deal with.

Recently, I posted a piece about “dead zones” degrading our waters and how, unlike climate change, we can do something about the problem.  And, not surprisingly, someone complained, saying that the Gulf of Mexico “ain’t dead by a long shot, calling it so is a misrepresentation of the facts or just piss poor reporting on science.”

The only problem with that assessment is that I did NOT say the Gulf of Mexico is dead. I simply pointed out that a dead zone occurs there annually because of nutrient overload flowing down the Mississippi River.

Additionally, the “dead” area is not oxygen depleted from top to bottom, and I did not say that it is. The problem exists mostly in subsurface waters.

In 2013, I wrote a piece about how dolphins, turtles, and some species of fish are likely casualties of the Deep Horizon oil spill. I added, “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.

Nevertheless, I received comments from angry anglers who disputed the science and accused me of harming the sport fishing economy of Louisiana by writing about such things. (By the way, check out this article, which details how aquatic life in the Gulf is thriving because of the oil industry.)

Years ago, I also was criticized by communities and chambers of commerce for reporting on Largemouth Bass Virus (LMBV) outbreaks at major impoundments.

For me, the bottom line is the welfare of resource, and, if there’s a problem, I want it solved or at least dealt with in a way that minimizes the damage done. I don’t know the motivation of those who don’t want to deal with the reality, but I have my suspicions.

Like the mayor of Amity, communities dependent on recreational fishing for economic prosperity don’t want to acknowledge events that might discourage tourism--- and don’t want anyone else to either.

Understanding what’s going on with anglers who criticize exposure of fisheries-related problems is a little more mysterious. But I suspect that it relates to the intense political divide in this country between the Left and the Right. Yes, I realize that not all anglers are conservative, but the majority are. And they bristle at the idea of anything “environmental,” which conjures up visions of Big Government intrusions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and on behalf of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

That division is one of the main reasons that such controversy exists regarding new proposals for the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).

Yes, we needed EPA, ESA, and CWA for better stewardship of our wildlife, land, air, and waters. But over time, they’ve all been abused by environmentalists and bureaucrats to further political agendas and infringe on personal freedoms and property rights.

As an angler who prefers less intrusive government, I understand that. But as an ardent conservationist who knows the importance of science-based management of our natural resources, I’m not going to reject everything “environmental” because I don’t like what the word connotes.  

Monday
Apr282014

Tuna Possible Casualties from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

More bad news has surfaced about the long-term consequences from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists say the pollutant can cause severe defects in the developing hearts of bluefin and yellowfin tuna.

The 2010 spawning season coincided directly with the spill, meaning floating embryos were exposed to large surface slicks as oil gushed from the damaged wellhead.

“We know from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound that recently spawned fish are especially vulnerable to crude oil toxicity,” says Nat Scholz, head of the ecotoxicology program for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “That spill taught us to pay close attention to the formation and function of the heart.”

Scientists add that affected fish likely would have died soon after hatching. Additionally, scientists know from previous research that survivors of exposure to crude oil can suffer subtle and transient changes in heart rhythm during development. These changes can permanently impair heart function and swimming ability at later life stages.

“This creates a potential for delayed mortality,” says one scientist. “Swimming is everything for these species.

And evidence that the threat is still out there appeared last June, when a 40,000-pound (20 tons) tar mat was discovered in the surf off Grand Terre Island. Considered hazardous to marine life, the mat reportedly was made of up 15 percent oil and 85 percent sand, shells, and water.

Also, a report last spring revealed the damage done to dolphins, sea turtles, and killifish, a common forage fish at the base of the food web.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). “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.”

All this is not to say that the fishing is not good along the coast and in the Gulf or that it will deteriorate in the next few years. The truth is that we just don’t know what the long-term consequences will be.

But evidence certainly suggests that fish and other wildlife immediately exposed to the crude oil were harmed and some species continue to be.  

That means we haven’t seen the end of this disaster. No one can legitimately declare that damages have been mitigated, or that our wildlife, marshes, barrier islands, and offshore habitat are “cleaned up.”

“It is crucial that impacted regions of the Gulf implement restoration projects that are based upon the best available science, and to spend every single dime of the penalty money from the spill wisely,” says NWF. “That is our priority. The Vanishing Paradise campaign is focused on these goals as we continue our work in all five of the Gulf states. In Louisiana, that means two things:

  • Supporting the implementation of the Louisiana State Master Plan
  • Ensuring the integrity of the financial mechanisms that fill the gaps between Plan-Funding- and Restoration

“The moral of the story is that the Gulf is still hurting, four years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Recovery and restoration are far from complete.”