Tag Archives: Oil Spill

Cuba’s Marine Life and Coastal Communities at Risk from BP Oil Disaster

Surface Horitzonal Current - NOAA/National Weather Service May 23rd

Surface Horizontal Current - NOAA/National Weather Service May 23rd

This week, federal regulators increased the size of the Gulf fishery closure to 37% percent of federal waters.  As the disaster continues, concerns are spreading across international boundaries, including to Cuba where the U.S. closure already abuts 250 miles of that nation’s waters. 

Most at risk is the ecologically rich northwest coast of Cuba, home to coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove forests.  These ecosystems are breeding, nursery and feeding grounds for fish, sea turtles, sharks and manatees.  At the same time, these systems protect coastal communities from hurricanes and storm surges.  Like the U.S., this disaster threatens important economic activity and livelihoods from commercial fishing to eco-tourism.

EDF’s Cuba program is sharing information with Cuban officials, scientists, and conservationists, helping the country keep a watchful eye on the path of the oil.   Unfortunately, the political differences between the U.S. and Cuba means there are no official mechanisms to communicate and cooperate on the crisis. 

I recently spoke at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., calling on the Obama Administration to work with Cuba.  EDF also supports similar recommendations in a report from the Brookings Institution entitled, Coping with the Next Spill: Why U.S.-Cuba Environmental Cooperation is Critical. 

For half a century, a political gulf has divided our two countries.  Finding ways to collaborate to respond to the BP oil disaster is in our mutual interest—to help Cuba prepare and respond to the worst, and to develop a strong foundation for the future to protect our shared environment.  It is time for a pragmatic approach.

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Senate Approves Help for Fisheries Impacted by BP Oil Spill

Although the oil spill in the Gulf continues to worsen, there’s a bit of good news for Gulf fishermen and fishing-related businesses.  The Senate last night approved an amendment by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) that would devote $26 million to support fishermen and to improve fisheries science because of the spill. 

The House still has to vote on the measure, so more critical funding could be added before its finalized and sent to the President. Earlier this week EDF signed a letter to Congress and the President with the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance and the Gulf Fishermen’s Association that advocated for at least $100 million in funding for direct assistance to adversely affected commercial and recreational fishermen and fishing communities, to improve fisheries science, and to make fisheries more resilient to harm caused by human activities.  Because of the size of this disaster, we see this as just a good start, and we are working to expand the scope and increase the amount over the long-term. 

 The amendment includes $15 million for fisheries disaster assistance, $10 million for stock assessments, and $1 million for a study on the impacts from the spill on the Gulf ecosystem.  Here’s the specific language.

 (1) FISHERIES DISASTER RELIEF.–For an additional amount, in addition to other amounts provided in this Act for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $15,000,000 to be available to provide fisheries disaster relief under section 312 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1861a) related to a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from the Deepwater Horizon oil discharge.

 (2) EXPANDED STOCK ASSESSMENT OF FISHERIES.–For an additional amount, in addition to other amounts provided in this Act for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $10,000,000 to conduct an expanded stock assessment of the fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico. Such expanded stock assessment shall include an assessment of the commercial and recreational catch and biological sampling, observer programs, data management and processing activities, the conduct of assessments, and follow-up evaluations of such fisheries.

 (3) ECOSYSTEM SERVICES IMPACTS STUDY.–For an additional amount, in addition to other amounts provided for the Department of Commerce, $1,000,000 to be available for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study of the long-term ecosystem service impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil discharge. Such study shall assess long-term costs to the public of lost water filtration, hunting, and fishing (commercial and recreational), and other ecosystem services associated with the Gulf of Mexico.

 IN GENERAL.–Of the amounts appropriated or made available under Division B, Title I of Public Law 111-117 that remain unobligated as of the date of the enactment of this Act under Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $26,000,000 of the amounts appropriated are hereby rescinded.

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Oil Spill Exposes the Flaws of Gulf Recreational Fishing Management

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bni8RT6HgqU

As a massive oil spill and its underwater plumes continue to threaten fisheries in parts of the Gulf, charter captains are in an immediate pinch: their prized red snapper season is about to open on June 1 for just 53 days, but clients are foregoing fishing trips because they are worried about whether it is safe to visit the coast and fish in the Gulf during the oil spill. Offshore fishing outside the closed spill area remains good, and fishing captains are ready to accommodate customers.

But, Captain Gary Jarvis of Destin, Florida, points to an unexpected impact:  “This oil spill exposes the failure of Gulf recreational fisheries management.” 

With so many cancelled trips, and a short government-set red snapper season, charter fishermen are looking for ways to stay afloat. While traveling the Gulf Coast, I heard a lot of ideas for moving around or extending the 53 day red snapper season.

Click here to learn more about the latest oil spill-related fishing closures in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We need a new way to manage our fishery that gives us the flexibility to deal with these kinds of disasters and run stable businesses,” Jarvis said.

Thankfully, they don’t have to look far for a working model.

“In addition to my charter business, I have a small commercial fishing business,” Jarvis explained. “The commercial side of my business is doing fine. For now, I’m not worried about it because the fishery is managed smartly.”

Gulf commercial red snapper fishermen currently fish under a system called "individual fishing quotas" that allows them to harvest a portion of fish throughout the year when it makes most sense for their business, instead of during a set season.  In exchange for this flexibility, each fishermen is held accountable for his harvest.

"Some form of catch share suitable for the for-hire industry needs to be looked into to see if we can be managed with the flexibility needed to stay profitable and keep the public access open for recreational fisheries," Jarvis said.

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Oil Spill’s Impacts on Fishing Industry Varies for Inshore and Offshore Businesses

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is threatening inshore and offshore fishing industries, families and ocean life. Its long-term impacts are still unknown.   Here’s the latest:

  • Closed fishing grounds – about 7.3% percent of the Gulf – from the Mississippi River to Pensacola are closed, in addition to many inshore Louisiana waters that support family-run shrimping and oyster businesses.
  • Scientists and volunteers are searching for and helping recover oiled birds and other animals; several have been documented so far.
  • Dispersants, chemicals that break up the oil slick, are being used in the Gulf. They can harm offshore ocean life including fish, their spawning and feeding grounds, and other offshore habitat. 

Concern: Louisiana shrimpers and coast are hard hit

Red snapper and shrimp fisherman James Bruce from Cut Off, La. is concerned about the impacts of the oil spill on the Louisiana coast as it spreads.

James Bruce, a red snapper and shrimp fisherman from Cut Off, Louisiana headed out to catch shrimp earlier this week in the few open inshore shrimping areas in his area. He’s unsure how long the opening will last, but is taking advantage of the opportunity. He told us that very few fishermen are working now. “If the well doesn’t stop, we’re history,” James said. “But if the oil gets into the estuaries, we’re really history.” 

Good news: Large areas of the offshore Gulf are still open for fishing

Despite the uncertainty about stopping the spill and clean-up, there is some good news: Many federal fishing grounds are still open and offshore Gulf charter and commercial fishing is still safe.

Some more good news is that demand and prices for commercial fish caught offshore are stable so far, and the fishermen under an individual fishing quota program—one type of catch share management—are able to work around the problem for now.

Fishermen know that this good news could change quickly if the spill isn’t stopped soon.

Unintended consequences of media coverage

We learned last week while visiting the Gulf coast that news stories about the oil spill have hurt fishing businesses located in areas still unaffected by the spill. A few examples include:

  • Last week and this past weekend, we heard that while only a small percent of the Gulf is closed to fishing, charter fishermen told us that they have lost most of their clients for May and trips for coming months have also been cancelled.   
  • On Friday a city leader and seafood business owner in the Florida Panhandle reported that the media has created a “panic,” and that occupancy in some Florida panhandle hotels has dropped from 70 to under 20 percent. 
  • Several folks in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida told us that, regardless of the actual impacts, the general public will be scared to eat Gulf seafood or risk taking a fishing trip.

EDF is working to understand impacts of the spill

EDF is trying to understand the impacts that the oil spill is having on the oceans and fishing industry. We care because a healthy fishing industry and oceans are better able to support healthy fish populations.

Help us out by explaining how the oil spill is affecting you and your business. You can respond with a comment on this blog, or send us an email.

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Most Fishing Unaffected By Oil Spill in Gulf So Far

The federal government has underscored what many fishermen, wholesalers, and restaurant owners have been telling us – that the oil spill has yet to impact their operations.  While everyone in the Gulf is worried about the impact of the spill, now and into the future, most fishermen across the Gulf spent this week in business-as-usual mode.  The one big exception are many shrimp fishermen in southern Louisiana who are facing severe restrictions.

We'll have updates starting next week from the Gulf where our staff have been meeting with fishing businesses.  The good news is that seafood is still flowing across the docks and many recreational fishermen who planned to head out on local boats will still be able to go.  Definitely check with your captain before canceling a trip.

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Louisiana Oil Spill to Seriously Impact Marine Life and Fishing Communities in the Gulf; Federal Government Must Act Swiftly

NASA satellite view of the Louisiana coastline showing the oil spill creeping toward the Mississippi Delta.

NASA satellite view of the Louisiana coastline showing the oil spill creeping toward the Mississippi Delta.

The ocean ecosystems and fishing communities in the Gulf of Mexico face potentially catastrophic impacts as a result of the 5,000 barrels of oil a day spewing out of the sub-seabed and into the waters off the coast of Louisiana. Oil moving throughout vast expanses of Gulf waters and ocean habitat and coming ashore on the massive Gulf Coast wetlands directly threatens not just the reef fish, oysters, crabs and shrimp that actually live there, but also many other species that use the reefs, marshes and other wetlands as nurseries, or that depend upon them for prey which lives or develops there.

The beaches that are likely to be coated with oil also provide important feeding grounds for shorebirds and fish alike, and essential nesting areas for sea turtles. In addition, a large number of ocean species release larvae to drift with the currents in near-surface waters — exactly where the oil currently is — in their most vulnerable life stages.

Together, a huge fraction of the fish production in the region is at risk – a body blow both to marine ecosystems and the multi-billion dollar coastal industries tied to commercial fishing and seafood, and sport fisheries and recreation. It is especially sad that this catastrophe threatens the fishing communities of the Gulf that have become national leaders in transforming oceans fisheries to models of sustainability. EDF calls on the federal government to act swiftly to minimize preventable damage, but also with compassion to bring aid and assistance to already-reeling coastal communities.

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