Something strange has happened to the fish in the Gulf of Mexico since this summer’s oil spill.
No, the fish haven’t grown a third eye like the ones near the nuke plant on The Simpsons. In fact, most sea life in the Gulf is thriving and multiplying like mad.
The growth of the fish population is not occurring because the oil was good for fish. According to Lou Dolinar, reporting for The National Review online, the growth is happening because fishing is bad for fish. When fishing was banned for months during the spill, the Gulf of Mexico experienced an unprecedented marine renaissance that overwhelmed any negative environmental consequences the oil may have had, a new study reveals.
Even the researchers themselves, however, are surprised by the results of their findings. “We expected there to be virtually no fish out there based on all the reports we were getting about the toxicity of the dispersant and the toxicity of the hydrocarbons, and reports that hypoxia [low oxygen] had been created as a result of the oil and dispersant,” said John Valentine, who directed the study. “In every way you can imagine, it should have been a hostile environment for fish and crabs; our collection showed that was not the case.”
The resurgence is so robust, he says, that it may be impossible to determine whether the oil spill has had any effect on sea life at all. Valentine notes that the study doesn’t let BP off the hook — Gulf fishermen have suffered real and costly damage from the closing of fishing waters and from what he calls the “sociological phenomenon” that’s scared consumers away from eating Gulf seafood.
The Dauphin Island Sea Lab, a teaching and research consortium of 22 colleges and universities in Alabama, ran the fish-population study. Asked why the group has been virtually invisible in the national media, Valentine says that, unlike some scientists, they refrained from speculating about the impact of the spill until they had real evidence.
The research methodology is powerful because it is simple and straightforward: They drag a net through eleven different survey sites up to 60 miles off the coast, then weigh, classify, and count the critters they snare.
“The fish are off the charts,” Valentine said. “There are no fewer fish. There are more fish, because they’ve been un-harassed all summer. There are more and bigger fish.”
NOAA has said there have been no fish kills tied to oil, has certified seafood in the Gulf as safe, and has reopened most of the water there for fishing.