Fishermen grill Marine Resources chief
BILOXI — Fishermen and others peppered the head of the state Department of Marine Resources with tough questions Wednesday at a meeting on seafood safety.
Asian Americans for Change sponsored a meeting that gave fishermen and others the chance to ask experts and state officials about the safety of their catch.
DMR Director Bill Walker told the group Mississippi waters fared relatively well during the BP oil gusher, and the kind of oil Mississippi got breaks down easier than what comes from wells upstate.
He said every government agency test has showed Mississippi’s seafood is still safe.
“I can tell you here tonight that every piece of evidence that has been brought forward by the state and by the federal government says that product is safe,” Walker said.
Walker said those who say the seafood is unsafe are fueling fears about the catch, which has in turn made consumers not want to buy it.
“For the small, but vocal group of folks that are continuing to push the idea that our waters are not safe, our seafood is not safe, that is hindering the recovery process,” Walker said.
Walker said though some are having trouble selling their shrimp, producers in the area do want to buy them. Those buyers are freezing a lot of it because of the low demand now, he said. Some shrimp are being bought from fishermen for about $1.50 a pound, Walker said, but the fishermen at the meeting said the price is even lower.
Some said they were getting as little as 40 cents a pound for crabs.
Others said they were finding shrimp with oil on them, but Walker said if that were the case, he’d like to have DMR officials accompany fisherman to those areas and perform tests.
Walker also said he has found no evidence of dispersants being sprayed in Mississippi waters at night, though fisherman have said they’ve seen it.
“I get reports that somebody is spraying this and spraying that and C-130s are coming over at night spraying dispersants,” Walker said. “We don’t have any real evidence of that.”
An audience member asked Walker if he could disprove that dispersants were being sprayed at night. Walker responded, “How can you prove that something doesn’t happen, ma’am?”
Walker said the only dispersants that have been used are in waters about 100 miles south of Mississippi’s Coast. He said he believes the dispersants have done their job.
“I like to use the analogy if you think about a bar of soap that is floating in the bathtub full of water, that bar of soap will eventually go away,” Walker said. “It will take awhile if it is left intact, but if you can break that bar of soap into 1,000 little pieces, it will go away a lot quicker. That is exactly what dispersants are designed to do, and quite frankly, that’s what they’ve done.”
Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer who was one of the featured speakers, said he disagreed with the “rosy picture” Walker was painting.
“The oil is here,” Cake said. “It is coming ashore on our beaches daily. All you have to do is ride down on the beach and see the BP workers walking up and down the beaches and picking it up. All you have to do is talk to the (Vessels of Opportunity) operators who have dragged absorbent boom on the bottom and you will know it is on the bottom of the Sound. It is in our deeper passes.”
Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and former salmon fisher who saw the effects in Alaska of the Exxon Valdez spill, was also on the panel.
Ott said the pollution could affect the reproductive systems of organisms. She said it took about four years for the ecosystem in Alaska to be fully affected by the spill there.
She said the region may be in a worse position than Alaska in one aspect. That’s because the Gulf Coast is more densely populated, which exposes more people and organisms to the potentially harmful effects of the oil, she said.
Ott said it could be decades before the area recovers because it takes years to break down the kind of harmful hydrocarbons.
“It is not going to disappear overnight,” Ott said. “ It is not going to disappear in a year. It is not going to disappear for at least 10 years. You are probably looking at a couple of decades. You’re lucky. In Alaska we are looking at least 50 years.”