The explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010 resulted in an estimated 200 million gallons of crude oil polluting the Gulf of Mexico. While the exact number is debatable, along with the 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants used in the response effort, this was unquestionably the largest oil spill and worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. While we all held our breaths silently wishing the oil and chemicals would have simply evaporated and dissolved, it’s obvious this level of contamination is going to have long-term adverse effects. What the future holds no one knows for sure, but one thing is certain. The Gulf will heal.
Without firsthand knowledge, we can’t determine what’s fact or fiction, but in April 2012, marine biologists reported alarming numbers of mutated crabs with no claws, shrimp with no eyes and fish with lesions and fin decay, all assumed to be the direct result of chemicals released during the spill response effort.
Commercial crews, the same hardened men who have been fishing these fertile waters for generations, say they have never seen these defects prior to the spill and are extremely concerned about fish stocks and the future of their livelihoods. Scientific studies are still inconclusive and federal health officials claim that all seafood harvested in the Gulf of Mexico is perfectly safe to consume.
Lingering damage from the spill may also be visually present. Reports talk of tar balls containing the deadly bacteria Vibrio vulnificus continuing to wash up along the coast of Louisiana. We don’t know if this is accurate. However what we can’t see may very well be the most alarming, as submersibles exploring the ocean depths report a massive dead zone surrounding the spill site.
Fortunately, head east to the Panhandle and Florida’s West Coast, and backcountry guides and charter boat captains alike unanimously paint a much prettier picture, claiming that inshore, near-shore and offshore fisheries are as strong as ever. Repeatedly, we were told exactly what we suspected; there is absolutely no evidence of any oil anywhere along the coast of Florida. Beaches are pristine and the Gulf of Mexico’s rich, emerald waters are full of life.
Florida Sport Fishing Editor, Captain Steve Dougherty, recently spent two days fishing the Gulf. Heading out more than 60-miles from Destin on an offshore overnighter in mid May, the results of the trip were epic. See for yourself on page 46.
While the overall health of the Gulf of Mexico remains questionable, a massive wound of this nature isn’t going to heal overnight. Lives were lost, families and businesses have been destroyed, and a pristine ecosystem has been traumatized. For now, the best thing we can do as a community is continue to support our friends and fellow fishermen by visiting the Gulf Coast and enjoying its bounties. The bite is on!