Freshwater fisheries and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Fish Busters' Bulletin
Friday, September 03, 2010
Media contact: Bob Wattendorf, with Chris Paxton and FWC staff
The Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire on an
offshore oil-drilling platform on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico
has been described as one of the largest marine oil spills in
history. The threat to Florida's commercial and recreational
fisheries was immense, as was the risk of injury to marine mammals,
seabirds, sea turtles and flora and fauna throughout the food
chain. Even further, it threatened fisheries-dependent businesses
and the tourism economy. Fortunately, with the diversity and scope
of Florida's fisheries, we feel confident that Florida retained the
title of "Fishing Capital of the World," based on our great
resources and responsible management.
From the beginning, freshwater fisheries biologists
stepped up to help with response efforts to protect Florida's
marine species. Even though our freshwater fisheries were not
directly challenged, we were concerned about impacts on estuarine
and riverine species, especially if species such as crabs - a major
food source for marine life - were to become contaminated.
Largemouth and striped bass around the mouths of Northwest Florida
rivers could be impacted by oil if it washed in far enough.
Fortunately, there is no scientific evidence that show these
BP, the U.S. Coast Guard and Minerals Management
Service were designated as lead response agencies (www.restorethegulf.gov) nationally. In Florida,
the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was the lead
agency for responding to the oil spill.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission (FWC) has and will play a vital role throughout this
event until impacts are known and dealt with effectively. FWC staff
(working with DEP, county governments, water management districts
and several federal agencies) has conducted pre- and post-spill
fish and wildlife assessments. These include taking water samples
and testing for contamination in sediments, fish and shellfish and
evaluating critical habitat for fish, and especially shorebird and
sea turtle nesting areas that might be impacted.
The FWC was very involved in locating the presence
of oil, using scientists aboard FWC law enforcement and research
vessels offshore, as well as patrolling beaches using all-terrain
vehicles and doing flyovers with both rotary and fixed-wing
During the spill's peak disbursement period in late
June, NOAA had closed nearly 36 percent of federally controlled
Gulf waters to fishing; by late-August all but about 20 percent had
reopened. The FWC closed a 24-mile-long area offshore of Escambia
County to harvest of saltwater fish, as a precaution due to
possible oil impacts from mid-June to the end of July.
Upon reopening the fishery, Nick Wiley, executive
director of the FWC, stated, "This is great news for all Floridians
and particularly our coastal communities, where fishing is such an
important component of their economy and way of life. We can all be
confident that fish caught in Florida waters are healthy and great
Analysis conducted under supervision of the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration and NOAA confirmed fish are safe and
oil-free. Oysters, clams and mussels had not been included in the
closure and were open to harvest; however, the area remained closed
to harvest of shrimp and crabs (see MyFWC.com/OilSpill for current
The Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management is
also involved with efforts to help promote fishing in Northwest
Florida. The area is known for excellent bass, bream, crappie,
striper and catfish. The western Panhandle areas are naturally
dependent on river fisheries, but back in the 1970s the state
created a series of Commission-managed impoundments that are
intensely managed to provide popular fishing opportunities. To help
in these efforts, you can provide input on Florida's black bass
management plan at MyFWC.com/BassPlan_Survey.
Flathead and blue catfish have expanded their
natural range into Northwest Florida rivers, where they provide
large, strong, aggressive challenges to freshwater anglers. The
Florida Catfish Classic Tournament is coming up, Sept. 24-25 at
Gaskin Park Landing in Wewahitchka. The tournament starts at 4 p.m.
CDT on Sept. 25, and ends at noon CDT Sept. 26 with the awards
presentation. Break the State Flathead Record and win $10,000 cash
(see FloridaCatfishClassic.com or contact Don
Minchew, 850-814-3180 for details).
Also check out BountyFishing.com/FL for other fishing
tournaments you can participate in when and where you want, simply
sign up and provide the required digital photos to document your
catch. You can release and recycle your catch immediately and still
claim a prize.