NOAA report offers glimpse of Gulf fishing losses after BP's oil spill

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s newly released fisheries report finds New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, Alaska, remaining at the top in 2009 for value and amount of fish landed, but the inclusion of several Gulf fisheries among last year’s top ten underscores just how much was lost in 2010 – for both the Gulf Coast and the national economy as a whole — in the wake of BP’s oil spill.

The “Fisheries of the United States 2009” report shows New Bedford’s port brought in more than $249 million of fish that year, with an increase of 23.6 million pounds from 2008. It was the tenth consecutive year New Bedford occupied the top “best for value” spot on the NOAA’s list.

The agency ranked Dutch Harbor-Unalaska best in amount of fish landed, with more than 506 million pounds of seafood, and second in value, pulling in just shy of $160 million. Dutch Harbor-Unalaska has occupied the NOAA’s top spot for 21 consecutive years.

Louisiana and Mississippi ports among the top 10 were Empire-Venice, Louisiana; Intercoastal City, Louisiana; Pascagoula-Moss Point, Mississippi; Cameron, Louisiana; and Dulac-Chauvin, Louisiana.

According to the report, Empire-Venice, Louisiana ranked second after Dutch harbor-Unalaska for total pounds landed in 2009, bringing in 411.8 million pounds – a 15 percent increase from 2008’s catches. The total value of the catch was $67.1 million.

Intercoastal City, Louisiana occupied fifth place, landing 244.7 million pounds in 2009.

Pascagoula-Moss Point, Mississippi ranked sixth with 217.8 million pounds. The sixth largest tonnage came in through Cameron, Louisiana with 178.8 million pounds.

Dulac-Chauvin, Louisiana ranked tenth in the nation for value. Its 2009 catches totaled $60 million – an increase of $2 million from 2008.

After BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf about 45 miles from Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, the federal government was forced to close large areas of the Gulf to fishing, just as fishing season was set to start.

The area closed to fishing now covers 43,000 square miles, or about 18 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf. The boundaries of the fishery closure have changed 26 times since it was first instituted on May 2, at which time it covered about 3 percent (6,817 square miles) of Gulf waters around the blown-out wellhead. The area grew in size as oil continued to spill from the wellhead, peaking at 37 percent (88,522 square miles) of Gulf waters on June 2.

Although it will be another year before 2010’s fisheries statistics are ready, it is almost certain that none of the Gulf Coast ports that ranked in the top ten in 2009 and many years prior will make it onto this year’s list. The larger economic losses are difficult to quantify since nobody really knows how extensively the oil spill damaged the Gulf’s ecosystem.