Gulf Oil Spill More Toxic Than First Thought, But Red Snapper in Gulf Rebounding

Oil stained waters of the Gulf of Mexico ten days after the initial explosion of the DWH rig.       Photo: CNN

A new study that was published last week in Science Advances, says that satellites were not able to fully detect oil in large areas of the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, and posits that “invisible and toxic oil” made the spill as much as 30% larger than some experts have estimated.  Meanwhile, the most prized sport fish in the Gulf, the red snapper, has rebounded so much that the federal government will now allow states to manage the recreational fishing for red snapper, and will allow more shrimp fishing as well because snapper bycatch is not a key issue any longer.

Why This Matters:  Underestimating the amount of oil that escaped during the worst oil spill in US history and where it went is a big deal — it means perhaps BP should have paid even more in civil fines and penalties, and it means that all our best technology and brainpower did not see the error in real-time.  I (Monica) was part of the Deputies meetings in the White House dealing with the spill as it happened, and we thought we were being exceedingly protective as we opened and closed areas of the Gulf to commercial fishing.  And yet the spill was even larger than we knew.  But nature has the amazing ability to rebound, and thanks to sacrifices by fishermen, who lived with strict catch limits for years, the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico is doing well now.
How Big Was It?
According to the new study, the spill was 30% larger than estimated — spanning all the way from the Texas shore, to the Florida Keys, the coast of Tampa and parts of the east coast of Florida.  During the spill, the government closed areas with oil to commercial fishing — 88,522 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico were closed because of the spill, according to a federal report on the oil spill.  But the closures were based on satellite imagery that the new study says missed smaller concentrations of oil that were not visible to the satellites, but they “found” using computer modeling.   The study’s lead author told CNN, “Satellite imagery it’s great but it’s not enough to fully understand oil spills.”
Red Snapper Recreational Fishery Gets State Management
Meanwhile, recreational fishers across the Gulf will now have more opportunities to fish for the prized red snappers because the federal government has now delegated its authority to manage the red snapper to state fisheries managers — even those that are caught in federal waters.  Long a subject of consternation and dispute between the federal government and the states, now federal fisheries managers are comfortable turning over management to the states all together because the fish is no longer “overfished” and populations are rebounding, and the states have done a good job managing the fishery under a temporary delegation of authority.  An expert from the NGO Environmental Defense Fund explained that this rule “allows for local control of an important resource while also increasing expectations for accountability… [it] incentivizes each Gulf state to responsibly manage recreational access while also continuing to rebuild the red snapper fishery.”    At the same time, the federal government expanded shrimp fishing to a larger area of the Gulf also because red snapper juveniles that are sometimes caught in shrimp nets are no longer at risk of overfishing.

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