“Everything Is Dead”: Gulf Fisheries Collapse Nearly Two Years After BP Oil Spill


The Gulf seafood industry is in a free fall – particularly in Louisiana, which once produced nearly 40 percent of all seafood caught in the continental United States and $2.3 billion in revenue. Those glory days are are now just a memory, and they may never be recaptured. For the past two years, there’s been precious little Gulf seafood to bring to market – ever since BP’s blownout Macondo Well began spewing more than 200 million gallons of crude in April 2010 just 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The docks and marinas in hard-nosed fishing communities like Pointe-aux-Chenes and Venice, Louisiana, should be bustling this time of year, but today they are eerily quiet and undisturbed, like a world frozen in perpetual limbo – waiting, hoping, praying for the Gulf’s once-bountiful (even legendary) fisheries to produce again. Current reports from up and down the coast indicate the situation is dire indeed.

The oysters have been wiped out. The harvest for 2010 was the worst in more than four decades. And there’s been little improvement since then as oystermen continue to report catches down as much as 75 percent, from Yscloskey to Grand Isle. Some estimates put this year’s harvest at roughly 35 percent of the normal yield – and that’s if we’re lucky. Crab catches are in steep decline. Brown shrimp production is down two-thirds. And the white shrimp season was even worse, leading to descriptions of “worst in memory” and “nonexistent.”

Dahr Jamail, a reporter for Al Jazeera, has been covering the BP spill since the early days of the disaster. His most recent article focuses much-needed attention on this pivotal time for Gulf fishermen, as they face drastically depleted catches and weigh whether to join in BP’s $7.8 billion “class settlement” or sue the oil giant individually (see link to article at bottom). This is a huge story that the American media has completely overlooked. The survival of tens of thousands of Gulf fishing families hangs in the balance. I find it enormously ironic, not to mention hugely disappointing, that it took a journalist based in Qatar to get this story out. Why did we need a reporter to travel halfway around the world to write this article? Anyway, here’s how Mr. Jamail sets up this immensely important story:

Hundreds of thousands of people living along the US Gulf Coast have hung their economic lives on lawsuits against BP.

Fishermen, in particular, are seeing their way of life threatened with extinction – both from lack of an adequate legal settlement and collapsing fisheries.

One of these people, Greg Perez, an oyster fisherman in the village of Yscloskey, Louisiana, has seen a 75 per cent decrease in the amount of oysters he has been able to catch.

“Since the spill, business has been bad,” he said. “Sales and productivity are down, our state oyster grounds are gone, and we are investing personal money to rebuild oyster reefs, but so far it’s not working.”

Perez, like so many Gulf Coast commercial fisherman, has been fishing all his life. He said those who fish for crab and shrimp are “in trouble too”, and he is suing BP for property damage for destroying his oyster reefs, as well as for his business’ loss of income.

I applaud Mr. Jamail for taking the time to travel to a number of fishing towns to hear from the people who have worked the Gulf waters their entire lives. What he heard, across the board, were stories of hardship and despair and fear of lost livelihoods. More from Dahr Jamail’s report:

“I was at a BP coastal restoration meeting yesterday and they tried to tell us they searched 6,000 square miles of the seafloor and found no oil, thanks to Mother Nature,” Tuan Dang, a shrimper, told Al Jazeera while standing on a dock full of shrimp boats that would normally be out shrimping this time of year.

“Normally I can get 8,000 pounds of brown shrimp in four days,” he explained. “But this year, I only get 800 pounds in a week. There are hardly any shrimp out there.” Dang’s fishing experience has been bleak.

When he tried to catch white shrimp, he said he “caught almost nothing”.

He is suing BP for loss of income, but does not have much hope, despite recent news of an initial settlement worth more than $7bn. “We’d love to see them clean this up so we can get our lives back, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

His experience during his last shrimping attempts left him depressed. Song Vu, a shrimp boat captain for 20 years, has not tried to shrimp for weeks, and is simply hoping that there will be shrimp to catch next season.

“The shrimp are all dead,” he told Al Jazeera. “Everything is dead.”

These are the same grim reports we heard months ago when shrimp season was in full swing on the Gulf. Consider this for consistency from an Oct. 11, 2011, New York Times report by Campbell Robertson:

The dock at Bundy’s Seafood is quiet, the trucks are empty and a crew a fraction of the normal size sits around a table waiting for something to do. But the most telling indicator that something is wrong is the smell. It smells perfectly fine.

“There’s no shrimp,” explained Grant Bundy, 38. The dock should smell like a place where 10,000 pounds of shrimp a day are bought off the boats. Not this year. In all of September, Bundy’s Seafood bought around 41,000 pounds.

White shrimp season began in late August, and two months in, the shrimpers here say it is a bad one, if not the worst in memory. It is bad not just in spots but all over southeastern Louisiana, said Jules Nunez, 78, calling it the worst season he had seen since he began shrimping in 1950. Some fishermen said their catches were off by 80 percent or more.

Gulf fisheries are failing. Some scientists believe they have already collapsed, and they may not recover for years. That is the reality that BP and District Court Judge Carl Barbier must consider when assessing future damages to Gulf fishermen. More from Mr. Robertson’s NYT report:

While cautioning that his study is incomplete, Dr. van der Ham speculated that certain compounds in the oil may have stunted the shrimp’s growth rate, and that the large numbers he found last year might have never made it out into the gulf to spawn, thus explaining a missing generation.

“There are numerous lines of evidence now that are sort of lining up that chronic exposure to this material could be problematic,” said James Cowan, a professor in L.S.U.’s department of oceanography and coastal sciences.

Those who work in the gulf seafood industry, as well as their lawyers, have watched closely for signs of a species collapse similar to the one that decimated the herring fishery four years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The causes of even that collapse remain a matter of dispute, but it is often cited as an example of the delayed disaster that shrimpers and others fear.

This concern was stoked further by a recent study by L.S.U. researchers that reported that a species of fish abundant in Gulf marshes was showing signs of cellular damage, problems typically due to exposure to oil. The functions of the fish, a minnow called the killifish, have been affected in ways that could harm reproduction, the study found.\

Anybody who thought 200 million gallons of oil and 2 million gallons of toxic dispersant somehow weren’t going to have a devastating and lasting impact on Gulf marine life needs to check back in with reality. More from Dahr Jamail’s report:

[Dr Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer and a marine and oyster biologist] recently told Al Jazeera that many of the Gulf fisheries “have already collapsed” and the only question is “if or when they’ll come back”.

“If it takes too long for them to come back, the fishing industry won’t survive,” he added.

Given that after the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska in 1989, herring have still not come back enough to be a viable fishing resource, this does not bode well for the Gulf seafood industry, whose fisheries are – according to scientists like Cake… – still in the initial phase of collapse.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery for the Gulf, and we must ensure that our local fishermen are fairly compensated for their lost income and livelihoods. These people are fighting for their survival.

In closing, I’d like to commend Dahr Jamail and Al Jazeera for continuing to expose the truth behind the ongoing disaster on the Gulf Coast. We are grateful.

Read Mr. Jamail’s report for Al Jazeera here: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/03/20123571723894800.html

Read the New York Times report by Campbell Robertson here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/11/us/gulf-shrimp-are-scarce-this-season.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved


  • So how come BP is running all those tv ads claiming everything is great now and it’s as if the spill never happened?

  • Yeah….drill baby drill….lets kill off the rest of the sealife…..when are we going to wake up????

  • I wrote a letter to the steering committee for the gulf victims and any media outlet I can find to publish it. I am not sure if it will post here, but here it is:

    Thank you for any consideration in publishing this story, I have been in direct dilogue with these people and their groups.

    British Petroleum Ad adding insult to insury
    Rally cry for Justice

    With overwhelming evidence of British Petroleum criminal cover up, peoples lives lost dying unspeakable deaths of horror by fire and drowning, sea life tragically dying choking on oil, toxic dispersant added to the gulf water, people who weren’t given proper protection for clean up, to name a few, and to add insult to injury, BP is currently running an ad on every network that the “Gulf is Back…beaches are back, best fishing ever”. Really? When does British Petroleum stop victimizing the victims?

    If you go to facebook Southern Louisiana Shrimp Alliance you will see over 1,000 voices speaking truth. That link, and the link by Cherri Foytlin a photo journalist and resident of Louisiana will lead you to enough substance to negate BP’s claims “the gulf is back” that you will join the victim’s rally cry for justice. Trisha James of Forida is working with people behind the scenes to stop the corexit spraying and get the gulf remediated and detox clinics for the sick. There are so many stories. The Gulf is “not” back!

    Newspapers across the country are supporting them. But, there is support and there is action. Not only action for fair compensation, but a stop to lies by propaganda advertising with untold corporate disposable marketing dollars.

    There is no amount of money that anyone can sue British Petroleum to sooth the injury they inflicted on innocent people, innocent sealife. It is ongoing. It is pervasive. The victims voices is where the truth lies. Across the country there is a growing awareness of discord and disparity of truth because of BP settlement news.

    These victims don’t have the power to hire high profile attorneys, but their collective voices need to be their power, and the steering committee needs to know that the victims feel anguish for their loved ones, and their livelihoods. Their present and their future.

    Those of us throughout the country who have become more aware of the present condition are appalled at the British Petroleum ad running on all the networks. The ad sports a local resident saying “The Gulf is Back and invites us all to come and enjoy the beaches and fishing.”

    However, when you talk to the residents…there is a disparity between that ad and their appeals to have the truth be told.

    It is an insult to the deceased and the living in the Gulf area, to gloss over the truth of their suffering. If they had the revenue, and they could run a “truth” ad, you can bet your bottom dollar, it would be in direct contrast of what BP is purporting to be the truth in their national ad.

    THE RESIDENTS HOLD THE TRUTH. Their hope is in the steering committee for fairness, and the media to continue to speak their truth. Restoration will come from the Clean water Act Penalities ,
    OPA violations, and other environmental violations..That’ll come from the upcoming trial.. There is a huge chance we’ll see a fining at trial of Gross Negligence. What is back is, BP drilling operations are “back”.

    In 1774, The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Americans stood up to the British…if only this was tea we were dealing with. There is a revolution of sorts and Americans are standing strong with their Gulf Brothers and Sisters and these voices need to prevail justice. I would like to raise a drinking cup up to BP…a cup of oil…and ask them if they would partake in a drink.

    Diane Esser, Founder/Director
    Butterflies for Kids Planet Kid Program

    “It’s the address we all share – Planet Earth – Handle With Care”
    Links: From Trishia James and Kimberly McCuiston: – The gulf is “not” back. It’s still a mess of horror stories!
    This is Part 1 – there are 8 parts: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S8UMuVLbTU&list=UU1k4vqx2vs15bJLXDLdRxTA&index=13&feature=plcp

    Kimberly McCuiston
    February 22
    2/22/12 Skin lesions from Crude/Corexit (7 photos)

  • Thank you for this informative article. I have been following any pieces of news and information that have been made available since the Gulf’s destruction. I appreciate the irony also that a reporter from another country is trying to educate and encourage awareness that our own media mysteriously avoids or devalues with one line statements. I too am very shocked and disappointed in the ignorance of my fellow countrymen that take everything the media says without question. Or in this case, what they haven’t been saying. I appreciate the update even though I’m not at all surprised because of contacts with Gulf Coast residents hurt by BP and the way our powers that be allowed the clean-up process with the destructive corexit to take place. Any information to inform the gullible American public that “all is not well or normal” with the air, water or food content of the Gulf Coast area is much appreciated. Thank You.

  • I have evidence that BP is lying about the true status of the 2nd Relief Well. I also have documentation proving that they stopped drilling on the 2nd Relief Well on Jul 9th, 2010 not the reported ‘temporary abandonment’ on Aug 23rd.

    Please contact me so that I may send the official government evidence to you. All material was publicly available on the websites of NOAA, BOERME, USCG, RestoreTheGulf and at BP.

    Thank you for your continued dedication and media coverage of the truth unraveling in the gulf!

    Most respectfully,
    Rhea Aker 513-692-3854 or Rheacares @ yahoo .com

  • Thank you for this story! It is sooo maddening to see the suppression of what is truly happening in the Gulf. I havr had to read Al Jazeera many time to find out what is happening here in the US.

  • Thank you for this story! It is sooo maddening to see the suppression of what is truly happening in the Gulf. I have had to read Al Jazeera many time to find out what is happening here in the US.
    My heart goes out to the people of the Gulf and to the creatures who have suffered so much to stay alive. If BP had spent as much on the restoration of the Gulf as they do on their phony ads about how great a job they have done, maybe there would actually be good news coming from the Gulf.

  • The reason alJazeerah reporters can cover this is that they are not in thrall to Obama and the people that support him, including BP, one of the Western media’s biggest advertisers.

  • How come its not BIG news in the US and in the world. What are journalists doing these s days? Oil production in the Gulf is now higher than in 2010. Mexico is starting its own drilling. It is as if we are at a stage where the Gulf oil spill never happened!

  • And what happens to those of us that were forced Ito taking the final claim of 25000.00 for my business,because we returned to work Crabing to cath very little, we took that pay out in the hope of saving our home,feed our children,buy medicine that we now have to take due to the results of their toxic mix that we were forced to breath 24 7 for living were the crap was coming ashore,and C130 flying over and spraying their mix all over are homes,our family dog that died months later,a hand dug fish pond that tested positive for all their crap.Our blood tested high for the chemicals that came from it,My son 10 years old had the highest reading, Is there anything left for us to do. We signed off because they wouldn’t take my paper work so over and over I did what they wanted,till we couldn’t wait any longer.I am so sick,some days as most I feel will be my last,and then where will my family be.

  • […] Stuart Smith blogs that Al Jazeera ran a story about the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He asks why it is that a reporter from overseas tells us about this instead of our own media. He also states that the seafood industry is essentially dead. The Gulf seafood industry is in a free fall – particularly in Louisiana, which once produced nearly 40 percent of all seafood caught in the continental United States and $2.3 billion in revenue. Those glory days are are now just a memory, and they may never be recaptured. For the past two years, there’s been precious little Gulf seafood to bring to market – ever since BP’s blownout Macondo Well began spewing more than 200 million gallons of crude in April 2010 just 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. […]

  • The environmental collapse of the gulf coast is about as permanent as the environmental devastation we continue to witness along the Japanese coastline. The untold numbers of animal, plant and water contamination will spread from these areas to produce unprecedented effects on world biodiversity.

    As I write this, other areas of the world increase in toxicity from industrial pollutants, intrusive introduction of man-made genetic agents (GMO’s) and mass butchering of livestock bred solely for food.

    When mankind thinks he manipulate the hand of God, he will quickly learn his place in the platform of creation.

  • Its a terrible reality down in the Gulf that the residents are going to have to accept. There is noway that anything is going to be able to survive in those poison waters let alone multiply normally. the glory days are over and all we’re getting is a dead zone. for a very very long time.

  • 7.8 billion or roughly what their profits from 6-7 weeks…. What about all of us who are going to pay higher prices for seafood…. You’re part of an inhuman cabal.

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

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