Local fisherman feeling effects of ‘extreme’ gulf dead zone

Local fisherman feeling effects of ‘extreme’ gulf dead zone

June 20, 2019– Mary Greeley News – Acadiana fishermen are reporting a loss when it comes to oysters, shrimp and crabs. According to Governor John Bel Edwards, flooding in North Louisiana is to blame.

A flooded Mississippi river is causing more fresh water to enter the Gulf of Mexico than any other year.

All that water falling on all that fertilizer-enriched farmland would soon wend its way through streams and rivers into Bradley’s fishing grounds in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Mississippi coast. The nutrient excess would cause tiny algae to burst into bloom, then die, sink, and decompose on the ocean floor. That process would suck all the oxygen from the water, turning it toxic. Fish would suffocate, or flee, leaving Bradley and his fellow fishermen with nothing to harvest.

In forecasts published Monday, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Louisiana State University predicted this spring’s record rainfall would produce one of the largest-ever “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico. An area the size of New Jersey could become almost entirely barren, posing a threat to marine species – and the fishermen who depend on them.

“We are all in bad shape.” Joey Edgar, co-owner of St. Mary Seafood said.

Every year, the Gulf of Mexico has a dead zone, but this year it’s standing out. Edgar describes the situation as a catastrophe. “I’ve been here since 1989, we have never seen this like this.” He said.

He explains the crabs are down 50- 70%. “My crab business is suffering bad, but we can’t control mother nature,” Edgar said.

But that’s not all, those who fish for oysters are at a total loss.

“It’s just a major punch in the gut,” said Bradley, a fifth-generation commercial fisherman from Long Beach, Mississippi. Bradley is executive director for Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, a nonprofit that supports the state’s fishermen.

“To have a total wipeout, which is what we’re going to have here now, I don’t know if our guys are going to be able to make it,” he said.

Local fisherman feeling effects of ‘extreme’ gulf dead zone

Bradley said he plans to travel to Washington, D.C., this month to request federal lawmakers declare a fisheries disaster, making relief funds available to affected fishermen.

Nancy Rabalais, an LSU marine ecologist who developed one of the recent forecasts, called the outlook one of the most severe she’s seen.

“And it’s perennial,” she added. “And it shows no signs of diminishing.”

Unoxygenated “dead zones” appear in waterways wherever algae are overfed by runoff from human activities like urbanization and agriculture – a phenomenon called “eutrophication.” NOAA estimates that 65 percent of American estuaries and coastal waterways are moderately to severely degraded by this phenomenon. The hundreds of dead zones around the world cover a combined 100,000 square miles and have caused nearly 10 million tons of biomass to either move or die.

The fisherman says the brown shrimp population is so bad that opening day for shrimp season was a bust.

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“Opening day of shrimp season nobody could even work. It’s been one of the worse opening days we’ve ever seen,” Edgar said.

Governor John Bel Edwards has requested for a federal fisheries disaster.

According to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, that can take several years. But fisherman like Edgar realize, the efforts can help, “They recognize the situation and that some of our local people are going to need help.”

Local fisherman feeling effects of ‘extreme’ gulf dead zone

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, fueled by the nutrient-laden water spilling from the mouth of the Mississippi River, is the second largest in the world. It blooms every summer, when warming waters accelerate the metabolisms of microorganisms, and is expected to get even worse as the climate continues to change.

The Midwest’s recent extreme weather will almost certainly exacerbate the problem, said David Scheurer, a NOAA oceanographer who worked on the agency’s dead zone forecast. The National Weather Service reported this week that the Mississippi River is in the midst of its longest cycle of flooding since 1927.

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Analyses from U.S. Geological Survey monitors in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya watersheds showed that discharge from these rivers was 67 percent greater than the 1980-2018 average. The amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous spilling into the Gulf were 18 percent and 49 percent above average, respectively.

Those nutrients, Scheurer said, “provide the foundation for [and] the fuel for the dead zone itself.”

NOAA’s model forecasts this summer’s dead zone to cover 7,829 square miles; Rabalais’ prediction puts the size at 8,717 square miles.

These numbers are far above the five-year average of about 6,000 square miles. It would have to be cut 75 percent in the next 15 years for the EPA to meet a target size for the dead zone of 1,900 square miles by 2035.

The Gulf of Mexico supplies hundreds of millions of commercial fish and generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Mary Greeley News

credit: In part with https://katc.com/news/around-acadiana/st-mary-parish/2019/06/20/local-fisherman-feeling-effects-of-extreme-gulf-dead-zone/