Slow starts are nothing new for Louisiana’s white shrimp season. Most of fall season harvest always comes later in September and October once colder north winds help bring up shrimp from the sea floor.
Weak demand, closed areas, and many boats still doing oil spill clean up duty for BP, are this year redefining what a slow shrimp season start looks like. It’s been just one month since the BP oil spill was capped.
But the Gulf is still churning up plenty of doubts and uncertainty.
The major dispute is over how much oil remains in the Gulf and, where did it go?
Two weeks ago, Jane Lubchenco, the former Oregon State University marine biologist who heads up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said 74 percent of the spilled oil had already been collected, dispersed, or evaporated.
Not so, says a new University of Georgia study. Georgia researchers said 70 to 79 percent of the spilled oil remains in the water. The oil will likely take years to de-grade, according to the University of Georgia/Georgia Sea Grant study.
And the University of South Florida mapped droplets of oil on the sea floor much farther to the east than expected. USF researchers said the life on the sea floor was showing a “strong toxic response” to the crude oil.
“One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into the water is gone and, therefore, harmless,” Charles Hopkinson, a UG marine scientist, said in a statement. “The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade. We are far from a complete understanding of what the impacts are.”
No one has been more optimistic than President Obama’s top environmental adviser, Carol Browner, who credited “Mother Nature” for doing “some nice work for us in terms of evaporation and dissolution of the oil in the water.”
If Gulf waters were getting cleaned up, it would follow that the seafood is safe. Federal agencies say they’ve taken 3,500 samples of seafood from the Gulf, and found none with enough oil or dispersant to be harmful to people.
Those so-called smell tests are backed up with a chemical test for oil. There is no chemical test for Corexit, the dispersant favored by BP. Almost two million gallons of the solvents were poured on the oil to break it up.
A couple dozen Gulf community, environmental, and religious groups hooked up with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Tuesday to press for more transparency in that testing by NOAA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“With the opening of shrimping season and near-daily re-opening of fishing areas, seafood safety is a major issue right now,” said Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with NRDC. “The government needs to show it is putting strong safety criteria and testing standards in place to ensure that the seafood from the Gulf will be safe to eat in the months and years go come.”
Solomon said the groups want all sampling protocols and data made public online to increase transparency and improve public confidence in the federal government’s monitoring program.
The groups also want criteria to protect vulnerable populations, including children, pregnant women, and subsistence fishing communities.
NRDC said even at the government’s lower assessment there is the equivalent of nine Exxon Valdez size spills left in the Gulf.
Louisiana’s shrimp season is open in areas east and west of the Mississippi River except for some portions of Barataria Bay and Chandeleur Sound.
About 22 percent of the U.S. economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico remains closed to both commercial and recreational fishing. The closed federal waters cover an area roughly the same size as the State of Alabama.
The cause of the BP oil spill was an explosion of the Deepwater Horizon well on April 20, killing 11 men.