Fish supplies are good 5 years after BP spill, but there are other problems

Published: Apr. 16, 2015 at 9:27 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 17, 2015 at 1:10 AM CDT
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Nearly five years after the BP oil disaster, people close to the seafood industry say there are both positive signs, and signs of concern.

Though no one's reported a complete collapse of any species, there are trouble spots, and the real damage may take years to detect.

At LA Seafood in Kenner, there's no shortage of fish.

"Now the red and drum are coming out of the west part of the state," said owner Harlon Pearce.

There is plenty of drum, redfish and catfish, and crabs are making a big comeback on the west side of the Mississippi River.

"We haven't seen the production levels out of Lake Pontchartrain. Whether that's a function of the oil spill, I'm not sure. It could be more of a function because of salinity," said Pearce.

Five years after the blown Macondo well dumped over 100 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, the lead agency for the state assessment of animal and wildlife impacts says problems aren't going away.

"We anticipate we will see the effects of this for decades," said Kyle Graham with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Final numbers have not been determined, but state officials confirm a higher-than-normal rate of dolphin deaths since the 2010 spill.

"When you think about dolphins, they're bottom feeders, and now we're seeing events that we've never seen with dead dolphins," said Graham.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says in the five-state Gulf region, there were more than 2,300 documented oiled bird deaths in the first year after the spill, with about half that number in Louisiana alone. In all, the National Wildlife Federation says more than 8,000 birds, turtles and marine mammals were found dead or injured six months after the spill, though the state was unable to furnish its own numbers.

"I'd love to say it's easy to do this, but we didn't have a lot of background data," said Graham.

BP says of 613 dead sea turtles collected after the spill, only 18 were visibly oiled. And even Graham says in spite of problems, there hasn't been a total collapse of any species, as far as anyone knows.

"If there were a lot of fish killed, we probably wouldn't see them, because of all the things that would feed off them," said Graham.

But east side of the river continues to be a problem.

"Our oysters haven't come back, and the only common denominator is the Deepwater Horizon disaster," said Al Sunseri, Jr. With P & J Oysters.

While many are convinced it's the oil, others believe it's fresh water.

"Are we seeing a classic freshwater event, or is there something bigger here impacting the spat [young oysters]?" Graham asked.

Tar mats continue to show up, as do tarballs, and though Pearce says it's all cause for concern, the fish seemingly have not been affected.

"They're processing tuna, black drum back here right now," said Pearce, who has pushed for better tracking of seafood for decades. He says if we had more of it, we'd have a better idea of exactly what BP's impacts were.

A tracking program, called Gulf Wild is catching on, but it's still voluntary.

"We're gonna track your fish right there. It's simple," said Pearce, adding that better science can go a long way to ensure the safety of a seafood fishery, which BP claims it has spent $ 28 billion trying to restore, with more on the way.

"If we decide there's oyster damage due to the spill, there will be additional restoration action inside the restoration claim presented to BP," said Graham - claims that could take years to fully play out.

Graham says has already spent millions of dollars on culch to reseed oyster beds east of the Mississippi River. Though he says some of those projects have shown promise, others say that area is now producing a small fraction of the oysters it did before the spill.

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