Gulf deals with rush of fresh water

Published on
June 9, 2011

The release of fresh water into the Gulf of Mexico to help prevent flooding along the Mississippi River is already taking its toll on some of the region’s seafood species.

Oyster harvesters are already reporting mortalities, after the fresh water was released from Louisiana’s Bonnet Carre Spillway around two weeks ago.

“We are seeing large incursions of freshwater in the Mississippi Sound. There is no way around it. It is here,” said Joe Jewell, assistant director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ Office of Marine Fisheries.

Although oystermen harvested as much as they could in advance of the freshwater release, “We are hearing reports form oyster leaseholders that there are mortalities occurring on the oyster reef … in the western Mississippi Sound,” said Jewell.

The Department of Marine Resources is running tests this week to determine the extent of the oyster deaths.

Gulf shrimp, on the other hand, is in plentiful supply this season and all sizes of shrimp are abundant.

“Shrimp are being landed in extremely large numbers, with the exception of the western end of the Mississippi Sound, where all of the freshwater is,” said Jewell.

“This season could be a good year landings-wise. It doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to participate in that equally,” said David Veal, president of the American Shrimp Processors Association.

Veal expects shrimp to be displaced from areas where they’re normally located, to different bodies of water. “There will be parts where the fishermen fish in a little bay, and they can’t fish there [this year],” said Veal.

Gulf shrimp prices are falling, which is indicative of plentiful landings, according to Veal. However, shrimp demand has not fully rebounded from last year’s oil spill, and shrimp processors are very concerned about their “rapid inventory buildup,” said Veal.

“Those sales [from large institutional and supermarket buyers] that they normally get are not there,” he explained. “We have to find the kind of ways to get shrimp to the public that we had before.”

It will take longer for officials and fishermen to determine the extent of the freshwater damage on finfish, blue crab and other Gulf seafood species.

“We are seeing a lot of the fresh water being mixed in as topwater throughout the Mississippi Sound. As it moves from the top to the bottom … it will have a much more dramatic impact on industry,” said Jewell.

Still, the Gulf seafood industry expects die-offs of all types of species in the larval and juvenile stages this summer.

“Now, at a time when we need more production and more inventory, we are going to get hit pretty hard,” said Harlon Pearce, president of Harlon’s LA Fish & Seafood in Kenner, La., and chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

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