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Commercial fishing catch up to pre-oil spill level

GULF OF MEXICO — Fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico hauled in more menhaden and other species last year compared with 2010, when millions of gallons of oil spewed from a blown well, according to a federal fisheries report.

But it’s too early to rule out any long-term effects from the spill, said Roy Crabtree, southeast regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Gulf’s menhaden catch last year was nearly 66 percent above that in 2010, but annual catches vary wildly anyway, and we don’t know all the reasons, Crabtree said.

“I would say it’s guardedly good news in that the catches are up for most of these,” said Crabtree. “I certainly wouldn’t say that we can rule out any long-term impacts from the oil spill. It’s too soon to know that.”

The Gulf’s menhaden catch rose across the Gulf Coast, to 727,664 tons. In all four states hit by oil in 2010, the catch was well above both those in 2010 and 2008. The earlier figures were available on the agency’s website.

With fisheries closed by the spill and fishing boats occupied with cleaning up the oil, adult fish that weren’t in the oil’s path might have had a better chance of surviving and reproducing, said Jackie Savitz, senior scientist for the nonprofit ocean conservation group Oceana.

Long-term effects can show up years later, she said, like the crash in Alaska’s herring population after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Populations looked normal for years, but by 1993 there were only one-quarter as many spawning adults as there had been in the late 1980s.

Some important species caught closer to shore were more varied than menhaden. For instance, blue crab and brown shrimp figures rose from 2010 in all four states, but the white shrimp catch fell in Louisiana and west Florida, while rising in Alabama and Mississippi.

The 23,850 tons of white shrimp landed last year at Louisiana docks were 8.1 percent below the 2010 figure and 16.7 percent under 2008’s. Along west Florida, 187.6 tons of white shrimp were unloaded, nearly 19 percent below the 2010 figure, but 21 percent above that for 2008.

Mississippi hauled in 1,373 tons of white shrimp, almost 19 percent more than in 2010 but 4.7 percent less than in 2008. Alabama’s 3,100 tons were 49 percent above 2010 and 5.8 percent above 2008.

Louisiana, the biggest oyster state on the Gulf, harvested 5,050 tons — 62 percent more than the year before, but nearly 13 percent less than in 2008. Mississippi scraped up only 112 tons, the lowest figure in more than a decade, and 83 percent below 2010. In Alabama, on the other hand, 142 tons marked the largest catch since 2008, when the oyster harvest plummeted from nearly 349 tons to 33 tons. West Florida’s take of 1,236 tons was nearly 26 percent above 2010 and 9 percent more than in 2008.

“A lot of things going on in the Gulf are going back to Hurricane Katrina” in 2005, Crabtree said. “You can look and compare for those years, but a lot of things are going on, so you have to be awfully careful about coming to conclusions.”


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