DATE: July 11, 2019
SNIP: A historic slow-moving flood of polluted Mississippi River water loaded with chemicals, pesticides and human waste from 31 states and two Canadian provinces is draining straight into the marshes and bayous of the Gulf of Mexico — the nurseries of Arnesen’s fishing grounds — upsetting the delicate balance of salinity and destroying the fragile ecosystem in the process. As the Gulf waters warm this summer, algae feed on the freshwater brew, smothering oxygen-starved marine life.
And as of Wednesday, an advancing storm looks likely to turn into a tropical storm or hurricane by the weekend, with the potential to bring torrential downpours and more freshwater flooding.
Fishermen and state government officials agree this long, hot summer may go down in history as one of the most destructive years for Gulf fisheries. The torrent of river water pushing into Gulf estuaries is decimating crab, oyster and shrimp populations. The brown shrimp catch this spring in Louisiana and Mississippi is already down by an estimated 80%, and oysters are completely wiped out in some of the most productive fishing grounds in the country, according to state and industry officials. The polluted freshwater has also triggered algae blooms, which have led to beach closures across Mississippi.
“We are seeing impacts across the coast in all sectors of the fishing communities,” said Patrick Banks, assistant secretary for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We will continue to collect data to support a disaster declaration.”
It’s not just fisheries that are suffering. Dolphins have been dying in huge numbers across the region — nearly 300 this year already, which is three times the number in a normal year, according to federal and state officials. Fishermen report finding dead dolphins floating in water near shore or beached in the marshes, covered in painful skin lesions that scientists have linked to freshwater exposure. One fisherman reported finding a mother dolphin pushing her dead baby along in the water.