by | Jun 27, 2011 | Imports, Markets

Hurricanes, oil spills, and now flooding feed the dead zone

The Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone” is forecast to cover 8,500 to 9,421 square miles – an area the size of New Hampshire – this summer, surpassing the record set in 2002, reports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The dead, or hypoxic, zone forms off the cost of Louisiana and Texas each summer, threatening recreational and commercial fisheries, worth $1 billion and $629 million respectively to the Gulf economy. Caused by excessive nutrient pollution, hypoxia sucks oxygen out of the water, leaving too little to sustain bottom and near-bottom marine life. In May, the stream-flow rates in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya were nearly twice the norm, and the amount of nitrogen the rivers pumped into the Gulf was 35% higher than average.

Speaking to Houma Today, George Barisich, a shrimper and president of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association, says that the impact of this year’s dead zone on fisheries will depend on the “extent, timing and where it ends up laying.” The actual size of the 2011 hypoxic zone will be released following a NOAA-supported monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium between July 25 and August 6.

Meanwhile, efforts to relieve the flooding by opening spillways have likely damaged oyster beds by lowering the salinity they need to thrive. Mike Voisin, a member of Louisiana’s Oyster Advisory Committee and CEO of Motivatit Seafoods, told WWLTV Eyewitness News that where the BP oil spill cut the state’s oyster production in half, the recent freshwater infiltration may have knocked it back at least another 30%. Voisin expects ample supplies of oysters through the summer months, although some smaller suppliers may be put out of business by this latest blow, and higher prices by the fall.

The trade data shows a 5% increase in US imports of shrimp in 2010, the year of Deepwater Horizon. That is not out of line with the growth trend for what has long been the top US seafood import by value and volume. But the data also shows a 56% jump in US imports (and a 71% increase in importers) of oysters (“live fresh chilled frozen”) last year. Sure to boost global demand for oysters, top consumer Japan has also lost significant domestic production to its own string of natural and manmade environmental disasters. To find out more about using the trade data to follow the seafood market, contact us.

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