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article imageGulf of Mexico coast closed to shrimping

By Anne Sewell     May 2, 2012 in Environment
Two years after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, shrimp and fish are turning up deformed and with lesions. Shrimping has now been halted.
WEAR TV had originally reported that the stoppage of shrimping was due to the deformities found in the fish caused by the oil spill and chemicals used to clean up the oil. Now they have withdrawn their original story stating:
"The closure is in response to routine shrimp sampling that indicated the average size were smaller than 68 head-on shrimp per pound. Meaning biologists found smaller than average shrimp in the waters causing the temporary closure. They will continue to take samples in these areas and determine any modifications to the closures."
Their original post on April 23 was titled: “Looming Crisis: Officials Close Gulf Waters to Shrimping as Reports of Deformed Seafood Intensify.”
All waters in the Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay, plus some areas of Little Lagoon, Wolf Bay and Bon Secour have been closed to shrimpers.
While the original story was withdrawn, the problems persist.
Problems began after BP's Deepwater Horizon oilrig exploded on April 20, 2010, releasing at least 4.9 million barrels of oil. The oil company then used around 1.9 million gallons of toxic Corexit dispersants to disperse the oil.
Reports have since been received of grossly deformed seafood all along the Gulf from the Florida panhandle through to Louisiana. However, Alabama is the first state to close waters to the seafood fishing industry.
Dr James Cowan, with the Louisiana State University's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences said in an interview with Al Jazeera, "The fishermen have never seen anything like this. And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and 30,000 fish, I've never seen anything like this either."
Dr Cowan was also involved in the clean up of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Dr Cowan states that he first started hearing about fish with lesions and sores from fishermen in November 2010.
Al Jazeera also interviewed Tracy Kuhns and her husband Mike Roberts. The couple are commercial fishers in Barataria, Louisiana, and they have been finding eyeless shrimp.
They told the news service, while showing a sample of the eyeless shrimp, "At the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of these."
Kuhns stated that at least 50% of shrimp caught between 2010 and now in Barataria Bay are affected. The popular shrimping area was badly affected by BP's oil and the dispersant chemicals used.
Kuhns added: "Disturbingly, not only do the shrimp lack eyes, they even lack eye sockets."
She then stated, "Some shrimpers are catching these out in the open Gulf [of Mexico]. They are also catching them in Alabama and Mississippi. We are also finding eyeless crabs, crabs with their shells soft instead of hard, full grown crabs that are one-fifth their normal size, clawless crabs, and crabs with shells that don't have their usual spikes … they look like they've been burned off by chemicals."
Keath Ladner, another seafood processor in Hancock County, Mississippi, is also very disturbed by recent findings: "I've seen the brown shrimp catch drop by two-thirds, and so far the white shrimp have been wiped out. The shrimp are immune compromised. We are finding shrimp with tumors on their heads, and are seeing this everyday," he stated to Al Jazeera.
He further stated that he had seen shrimp with gill defects and "their shells missing around their gills and head".
"We've fished here all our lives and have never seen anything like this," he added.
Ladner said that he had also seen crates of blue crabs, all of which lacked at least one of their claws.
Al Jazeera also interviewed Darla Rooks, who has been fishing all her life in Port Sulfur, Louisiana.
In the interview she stated that she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within … they are still alive, but you open them up and they smell like they've been dead for a week".
Rooks has also reported finding shrimp with abnormal growths, without eyes, and female shrimp with their babies still attached. She has also seen shrimp with oiled gills: "We also seeing eyeless fish, and fish lacking even eye-sockets, and fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills, and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills."
Rooks has grown up in the area, fishing with her parents, and says that she has never seen such things in these waters. She also states that the seafood catch last year was "ten per cent what it normally is".
The possible cause?
Dr Riki Ott, who is a marine biologist and toxicologist told Al Jazeera: "The dispersants used in BP's draconian experiment contain solvents, such as petroleum distillates and 2-butoxyethanol. Solvents dissolve oil, grease, and rubber. It should be no surprise that solvents are also notoriously toxic to people, something the medical community has long known".
The dispersants used are well known to be mutagenic. This alarming fact can be seen in the current seafood deformities.
With shrimp having a very short life-cycle, two or three generations have existed since the BP disaster started, giving the chemicals sufficient time to enter the genome and cause the disturbing deformities that are now being seen.
A chemist and Macarthur Fellow, Dr Wilma Subra, says she has conducted tests on sediment samples and seafood along the gulf, testing for the chemicals from toxic dispersants and BP's crude oil. She told Al Jazeera: "Tests have shown significant levels of oil pollution in oysters and crabs along the Louisiana coastline. We have also found high levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and vegetation."
Dr Cowan with the Louisiana State University's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, quoted above, believes that chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAs), which were released from BP's submerged oil, are most likely to blame for the results he is finding. He states that the fish with lesions are from a "a wide spatial distribution that is spatially coordinated with oil from the Deepwater Horizon, both surface oil and subsurface oil. A lot of the oil that impacted Louisiana was also in subsurface plumes, and we think there is a lot of it remaining on the seafloor".
He further stated: "The fish are being exposed to PAHs, and I was able to find several references that list the same symptoms in fish after the Exxon Valdez spill, as well as other lab experiments. There was also a paper published by some LSU scientists that PAH exposure has effects on the genome."
A survey was conducted by the University of South Florida, which released findings which were very similar to Cowan's. The found a 2-5% infection rate in the same oil impact areas with red snapper and more than 20 other species of fish with lesions. In their findings, in many locations 20% of the fish had lesions and in later expeditions they found an alarming 50% of fish had the lesions.
Dr Cowan states, "I asked a NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] sampler what percentage of fish they find with sores prior to 2010, and it's one tenth of one percent. Which is what we found prior to 2010 as well. But nothing like we've seen with these secondary infections and at this high of rate since the spill."
He continued: "What we think is that it's attributable to chronic exposure to PAHs released in the process of weathering of oil on the seafloor. There's no other thing we can use to explain this phenomenon. We've never seen anything like this before."
Al Jazeera contacted BP for a response. However, they refused to comment on the issue in a television interview, but did provide a statement reading, "Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is among the most tested in the world, and, according to the FDA and NOAA, it is as safe now as it was before the accident."
BP further claims that lesions on fish are common. They state that prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill there was "documented evidence of lesions in the Gulf of Mexico caused by parasites and other agents."
They added: "As part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which is led by state and federal trustees, we are investigating the extent of injury to natural resources due to the accident."
"BP is funding multiple lines of scientific investigation to evaluate potential damage to fish, and these include: extensive seafood testing programs by the Gulf states; fish population monitoring conducted by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Auburn University and others; habitat and water quality monitoring by NOAA; and toxicity tests on regional species. The state and federal Trustees will complete an injury assessment and the need for environmental restoration will be determined."
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