Gulf seafood testing showed no problems
Tests by several state and federal agencies have yielded some encouraging results for Mississippi's coastal waters, according to scientists gathering at the Gulf Coast Research Lab for an open house on Thursday. The group also discussed sport and commercial fisheries and seafood health.
Along with GCRL fisheries biologists, representatives of Mississippi's departments of Marine Resources and Environmental Quality presented the findings and answered questions.
DEQ released results of a comprehensive seafood study conducted in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The study looked for signs of chemical and microbial contamination in seafood tissues.
"Hundreds of samples of fish and shellfish, collected and analyzed in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, show no reason for concern about the consumption of Gulf seafood," the report concluded.
The report also showed hopeful signs for the heavily affected oyster industry.
While some oystering areas are still closed until they can be tested, "many oyster harvest areas have already been tested and re-opened," wrote Robbie Wilbur, a DEQ spokesman.
Officials recommended that people take normal precautions when eating seafood, including thorough cooking and not eating the skin, fat or organs.
A group of state and federal agencies conducted the survey in Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi Sound, Mobile Bay and the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Henry Folmar, lab director for DEQ's office of pollution control, highlighted the good and the bad that the agencies have found so far. He said less than half of the data has been analyzed so far.
The good news is that no pesticides or petroleum derivatives and low concentrations of metals have been found in water samples. No metals, PCBs or pesticides have been found in fish, shrimp or crabs. Bacteria levels are much lower than had been expected.
"Chemical contamination seems to be very limited," he said. "The real damage seems to be physical habitat destruction."
The bad news is that water samples revealed dioxin, a compound known to cause cancer, in the Escatawpa and Pascagoula rivers and in St. Louis Bay, though the levels they detected were below the limit set for residential soil.
Researchers also found a low dissolved oxygen environment in the Escatawpa River and St. Louis Bay near Bayou Lacroix. Measuring dissolved oxygen in water is a common way to understand the relative health of the aquatic environment.
Read Hendon, a fisheries biologist with the GCRL, said that spotted seatrout and striped bass populations fared the storm well.
Jim Franks, also with GCRL, said that Mississippi's commercial fishing industry, including fishermen, processors and dealers, received as much as $200 million in damage.