Barham says generations could feel effects of Gulf oil spill


Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham said the state’s fisheries and coast could feel the impact of the BP gulf oil spill for generations.

“We all recognize the spill wasn’t as bad as we feared, but having said that, the final assessment of the impact won’t occur for years,” said Barham, who spoke to The News-Star’s Editorial Board Wednesday.

Barham pointed to the Exxon Valdez Alaska spill in the 1980s as a reference.

“They didn’t begin to see the dramatic impact on fisheries until four years passed when the herring fisheries collapsed, and there’s been a 22-year steady downward trend of the salmon fisheries,” Barham said. “That leads us to know that could be the case for Louisiana and the gulf.”

Barham estimated that 100 miles of Louisiana marshes and beaches remained oiled.

“While we’ve had good success in some areas, we do have other areas that are heavily oiled,” he said. “Places like Bay Jimmy and Redfish Bay are the worst.”

Barham said the biggest unknowns are related to the dispersants BP used to fight the spill.

“We opposed the sub-sea dispersants from the first day, but BP poured more than a million gallons into that column of oil,” he said. “My feeling is BP wanted that oil out of sight and mind. They didn’t want people to see that oil on the surface heading for the marshes and beaches.

“The dispersant worked in fragmenting the oil, but LSU scientists tell us there will be traceable quantities of oil longer than anyone here will be alive.”

Barham, whose agency led the in-state fight against the spill, said he’s frustrated with both BP’s response and the U.S. Coast Guard, the lead federal agency in cleanup.

“I’m not satisfied,” he said. “I think the Coast Guard has deferred to BP since Day One. They’ve gone along with whatever BP said, including the dispersant.”

Barham said he’s meeting with Coast Guard officials again on Thursday.

The secretary said the state has secured $13 million for a three-year study on the spill’s impact to the fisheries, $18 million to monitor seafood safety and $30 million to market Louisiana’s seafood.

“There are restaurants in New York City advertising that they don’t sell Gulf seafood,” Barham said. “We have to recapture our market.”

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