Scientists Warn that “Trophic Cascades” May Cause Fishery Collapses in Gulf


More scientists are calling for extended research into the long-term impacts of the BP spill. To that end, some 40 scientists gathered in Sarasota, Fla., to “discuss long-term scientific responses to the spill.”

The focus of the group’s discussion gives us an indication of what the long-term impacts may look like. Mark Schleifstein at the Times-Picayune reports that “…[symposium] participants focused on the potential for ‘trophic cascades,’ changes affecting a single or multiple species in the Gulf food chain that could cause stress or declines in populations of organisms at other stages in the food chain. Such a cascade is believed to have caused the collapse of the Pacific herring fishery in Alaskan waters in 1993, four years after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill.”

Of course, not surprisingly, Exxon still denies that its spill caused that cascade. And the collapse came well after nearly everybody who suffered damages had agreed not to sue, in exchange for final settlements. We ignore this relevant history at considerable peril, because you know it’s on the minds of BP executives every day.

Mr. Schleifstein’s article also echoes an issue we’ve been hearing for some time – that “… scientists at the conference also raised concerns that information being gathered by federal, state and BP researchers as part of the federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment process will be kept from public distribution because of concerns it will be needed during possible court challenges.”

That means BP and the goverment will see the findings, but not the public. Anyone embracing that as a good situation should be immediately suspect. You can see where BP would keep its “findings” secret, but it’s unacceptable for the government to hide information. And we shouldn’t tolerate it.

Here’s the Times-Picayune report out of Florida:

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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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