A Taste of the Grotesque in the Gulf: Eyeless Shrimp, Clawless Crabs and Lesion-Covered Fish


Nearly two years on from the worst oil spill in U.S. history, seafood coming out of the Gulf of Mexico looks like it belongs in a shop of horrors rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Severely deformed shrimp with bulging tumors – and no eyes. Red snapper and grouper riddled with deep lesions and oozing sores. Eyeless, clawless blue crabs.

So goes the parade of the “seafood grotesque” in the Gulf of Mexico, sending shock waves through Gulf Coast fishing communities from Grand Isle to Bayou La Batre – and stunning local scientists who have long studied the brutal impacts of oil on marine life.

Consider this from an April 18 Al Jazeera report by Dahr Jamail, who has doggedly covered the BP spill since the early days of the disaster:

“The fishermen have never seen anything like this,” Dr Jim Cowan told Al Jazeera. “And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and 30,000 fish, I’ve never seen anything like this either.”

Dr Cowan, with Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences started hearing about fish with sores and lesions from fishermen in November 2010.

Cowan’s findings replicate those of others living along vast areas of the Gulf Coast that have been impacted by BP’s oil and dispersants.

Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP’s 2010 oil disaster.

Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp – and interviewees’ fingers point towards BP’s oil pollution disaster as being the cause.

Tragically, eyewitness accounts of deformed seafood are becoming more common, not less – an indication that two years later we are just beginning to see the spill’s devastating impact on Gulf fisheries. More from Mr. Jamail’s disturbing report:

Tracy Kuhns and her husband Mike Roberts, commercial fishers from Barataria, Louisiana, are finding eyeless shrimp.

“At the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of these,” Kuhns told Al Jazeera while showing a sample of the eyeless shrimp.

According to Kuhns, at least 50 per cent of the shrimp caught in that period in Barataria Bay, a popular shrimping area that was heavily impacted by BP’s oil and dispersants, were eyeless. Kuhns added: “Disturbingly, not only do the shrimp lack eyes, they even lack eye sockets.”

Along with the mutated shrimp, comes daily reminders of what’s causing the horrific deformities, according to Al Jazeera:

The physical signs of the disaster continue.

“We’re continuing to pull up oil in our nets,” [lifelong fisherwoman Darla] Rooks said. “Think about losing everything that makes you happy, because that is exactly what happens when someone spills oil and sprays dispersants on it. People who live here know better than to swim in or eat what comes out of our waters.”

Khuns and her husband told Al Jazeera that fishermen continue to regularly find tar balls in their crab traps, and hundreds of pounds of tar balls continue to be found on beaches across the region on a daily basis.

As reports of visibly sick marine life continue to roll in, so does the independent scientific research tying these frightening symptoms directly to the BP spill. More from Al Jazeera:

Dr Wilma Subra, a chemist and Macarthur Fellow, has conducted tests on seafood and sediment samples along the Gulf for chemicals present in BP’s crude oil and toxic dispersants.

“Tests have shown significant levels of oil pollution in oysters and crabs along the Louisiana coastline,” Subra told Al Jazeera. “We have also found high levels of hydrocarbons in the soil and vegetation.”

And consider this from an April 20 Associated Press report by Cain Burdeau:

A recent batch of test results revealed the presence of oil in the bile extracted from fish caught in August 2011, nearly 15 months after the well blew out on April 20, 2010, in a disaster that killed 11 men.

“Bile tells you what a fish’s last meal was,” said Steve Murawski, a marine biologist with the University of South Florida and former Chief Science Adviser for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “There was as late as August of last year an oil source out there that some of those animals were consuming.”

Well, no kidding. Two hundred million gallons of oil and 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant doesn’t just disappear. It gets “absorbed” into the ecosystem, and we’re now beginning to see the impact of that absorption. Many local scientists are stunned by what they’re seeing, and these are folks who have studied oil spills before. It ain’t their first rodeo by any stretch of the imagination. More from Cain Burdeau’s report:

“Some of the things I’ve seen over the past year or so I’ve never seen before,” said Will Patterson, a marine biologist at the University of South Alabama and at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “Things like fin rot, large open sores on fish, those were some of the more disturbing types of things we saw. Different changes in pigment, red snapper with large black streaks on them.”

Not only is the seafood deformed, it’s also in dramatically shorter supply. Commercial fishermen and seafood processors from across the Gulf Coast have been reporting severely depleted catches and “minimal product movement” for months on end. More from Al Jazeera:

Keath Ladner, a third generation seafood processor in Hancock County, Mississippi, is also disturbed by what he is seeing.

“I’ve seen the brown shrimp catch drop by two-thirds, and so far the white shrimp have been wiped out,” Ladner told Al Jazeera. “The shrimp are immune compromised. We are finding shrimp with tumors on their heads, and are seeing this everyday.”

While on a shrimp boat in Mobile Bay with Sidney Schwartz, the fourth-generation fisherman said that he had seen shrimp with defects on their gills, and “their shells missing around their gills and head”.

“We’ve fished here all our lives and have never seen anything like this,” he added.

Ladner has also seen crates of blue crabs, all of which were lacking at least one of their claws.

There’s no doubt the outlook is grim. Through all the eyewitness accounts of seafood deformities and mutations and depleted catches coming from up and down the coast, one thing has remained constant: People who have been around the Gulf of Mexico their entire lives “have never seen anything like this.”

Here is Dahr Jamail’s report for Al-Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/04/201241682318260912.html

Read Cain Burdeau’s AP piece here: http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/business/article/2-years-later-fish-sick-near-BP-oil-spill-site-3493396.php

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved


Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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