New Questions About Sick Fish In Gulf

Researcher at Dauphin Island Sea Lab tests red snapper samples, October 2010 (via Flickr's BP America)

The National Wildlife Federation issued a new report this week, detailing how some of the Gulf of Mexico’s key species and habitats are doing as we near the one-year mark of the Gulf oil disaster. According to The Long Road to Recovery, written by NWF Senior Scientist Dr. Doug Inkley, dolphins, brown pelicans and shrimp are doing relatively well so far, while others like sea turtles, bluefin tuna and wetlands are struggling.

But the so far is the key – previous catastrophes like the Exxon Valdez have shown that impacts of oil disasters may not reveal themselves for years. And this week, the Wall Street Journal is reporting new concerns with some species of fish in the Gulf:

In recent weeks there has been a rising incidence of fish caught in Gulf waters between eastern Louisiana and western Florida with dark lesions and rotting fins, says James Cowan, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he says.

The afflicted fish have been caught in “hot spots” along the Gulf Coast that range between 10 miles and 80 miles offshore, Mr. Cowan says. Among the spots, Mr. Cowan says, are areas off Pensacola, Fla.; Orange Beach, Ala.; and Mississippi—Gulf seas that were heavily oiled, he says.

Scientists consider this significant because snapper congregate along reefs and feed on shrimp and other organisms on the sea floor. Sheepshead, a Gulf fish that feeds on sediment organisms, have been caught with similar problems, says Mr. Cowan.

He believes oil contamination in the Gulf sediment may be to blame, but says lab tests so far haven’t identified a cause. The tests show that some of the snapper have parasites, a sign of a weakened immune system, a development that could threaten the long-term health of the fishery. So far, the problem shows up in only a small proportion of snapper caught in the hot spots.

The fish concerns come after tests confirmed the presence of BP oil on dead dolphins that washed ashore in the Gulf.

Speak Up for Gulf Restoration

Please take a moment right now to ask your members of Congress to pass oil disaster response legislation that devotes fines and penalties to coastal wetlands restoration.

Learn more about the National Wildlife Federation’s response to the Gulf oil disaster at