Anglers and the fishing industry have been concerned about the large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the blowout of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon well last summer. Now that the spill has been stopped, questions continue about the longer term effects of the spill on aquatic resources and about the safety and quality of recreational fishing in the Gulf. In this paper we offer our best understanding of the situation as of early 2011 and suggest sources for more information.
The overall impact of the oil spill on marine resources of the Gulf of Mexico is still being determined by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to determine what reparations are required under the Natural Resources Damage Assessment program. Planning is also underway for the potential investment of damage money in restoring the ecosystem.
However, preliminary summaries by NOAA and the Gulf States have shown that far less damage to fisheries and wildlife populations occurred than was first feared. Overall, fish populations in the Gulf appear to be near pre-spill levels and certainly at levels that support excellent recreational fishing. While subtle impacts on some coral reefs may have occurred, major negative impacts on fishing resources or their food supplies seem to have been avoided.
Part of the reason for such limited damage was the timing of the spill, which avoided major spawning seasons for fish and major wintering concentrations seasons for waterfowl. Also, large storms were avoided which could have pushed toxic oil concentrations into the food producing marshes.
Repeated sampling for oil or oil-contaminated fish have shown that very little oil remains at large in the Gulf and there is no problem with oil contamination damaging the quality of recreational fish caught virtually anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of this result may be due to the occurrence of oil-eating bacteria in the Gulf.
This is why the entire Gulf has been reopened to recreational fishing. Reports indicate that fishing is currently excellent for inshore and offshore stocks of fish in the Gulf. Anglers are encouraged to plan a fishing trip to the Gulf in 2011 to experience the excellent fishing available and to satisfy themselves that fishing in the Gulf is back on track.
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Jim Martin - Conservation Director