Awaiting the good, bad and ugly of the Gulf oil spill


The good, bad and ugly outdoors stories from 2010 begin and end with the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig disaster.

But instead of rehashing what happened, I prefer to look ahead in hopes of pointing out what could be good, bad and/or ugly in the wake of the leak.


There are many things we don’t know about how the oil affected species fishermen target and, perhaps more importantly, the things on which those fish feed.

In a couple of months, we should be able to get initial glimpses of the effects, if any, on brown shrimp, menhaden, blue crabs, bay anchovies, mullet and others. These are the forage species that were maturing in coastal estuaries when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, and those whose life cycles dictated they run the gauntlet of oil on their return to offshore spawning grounds.

Scientists will soon begin sampling these species, focusing primarily on shrimp and menhaden, which are considered bellwether species of the coastal food chain.

If that sampling turns up a significant reduction in numbers returning that can be traced to contact with the oil and/or some form of prevalent oil contamination, it could forewarn of uglier days ahead, possibly on a scale we can’t imagine.


Concerted federal, state and local efforts continue to ensure the public that Gulf seafood is safe to catch and eat and our beaches will be clean when spring break arrives.

While estimates vary wildly about how much oil remains, where it is and what will become of it, the worst thing that could happen to tarnish image-building efforts would be a large quantity of crude just showing up with a bunch of dead fish or shrimp or anything else floating in it.

Even small-scale oil-related contacts over time will be bad for coastal economies, which were proved as never before to be so reliant on the drawing cards of the Gulf’s natural resources and its inherent beauty.


If nothing else, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy opened a lot of eyes to the true aesthetic, commercial and recreational value of our coastal waters, everything that swims in them and every grain of sugar-white sand on the Gulf’s beaches.

Never again should they be taken for granted.

I believe greater protection, preservation and conservation efforts should be and will be made at all levels of government.

More importantly, I hope the threat to our waters and lands instilled in people all across the Gulf Coast a greater sense of ownership of where they live.

Many of us, including myself, homesteaded here primarily for those reasons. Not only do we enjoy the bounty found in the water and on the land, we understand the importance of defending and fighting for their preservation.

Hopefully, the threat of losing any part of what makes the Gulf Coast a great place to live, work and play will lead to greater daily appreciation for it and willingness to get involved in restorative efforts.

Contact Outdoors Editor Jeff Dute at His column appears Sundays in the Press-Register.

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

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