jumbo shrimp

Two years after the BP Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and we may actually only be seeing the beginnings of the fallout. Al Jazeera English has released a lengthy report documenting the increasing incidence of Gulf seafood being found with major deformities.

Fishermen and gulf residents interviewed for the report listed fish with lesions and tumors, eyeless fish and shrimp, and deformed crabs among the many deformities they are finding when they bring in their catch. Some fishermen and scientific samples were reporting up to 50 percent of the seafood population tainted with these sorts of deformities.

Yet federal health officials maintain that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat. According to an interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Robert W. Dickey, head of the Food and Drug Administration’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory, stated that these sick fish and other sea creatures were not a threat to public health, because the FDA has strict regulations prohibiting seafood with any signs of disease from going to market.

That might protect our health, but the health of the sea creatures living in the Gulf are obviously at risk. Scientists disagree, however, about what might be to blame for the problems. Some scientists believe that chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that were released from the oil itself are to blame. These volitile organic compounds are known to be released when oil is weathered in the open ocean and washes ashore. Others believe that the chemical dispersants used to combat the oil spill are the culprit, noting that the chemical solvents in the dispersants are known to be mutagenic. Since shrimp have a relatively short life cycle, there have already been 2–3 generations of shrimp exposed to the chemicals, and the resulting mutations, including eyeless and shell-less shrimp, could be the result. 

Federal and state governments maintain that they are taking samples of water and seafood to ensure that human exposure to the chemicals remains lower than FDA mandated safety thresholds.  

Image: Global Jet