Al Jones: Red snappers’ lesions a troubling occurrence
Nearly six years ago, Hurricane Katrina changed our lives forever along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Last year, it was the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill that dominated the news and changed life styles.
This year, we await the outcome of the Mississippi River flood waters and what the overall impact will be in the Mississippi Sound.
Brace yourself, we now have another arrow of bad news that’s been fired our way.
NOAA ran several tests last year before declaring seafood safe to eat following the BP oils spill that had a direct impact on Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
For the first time, NOAA is warning anglers that some fish are sick and could pose a health risk if handled or eaten raw.
Despite the news, NOAA stands by their assessment that Gulf of Mexico seafood is safe to eat.
Nonetheless, it’s scary because the reports of sick fish, mainly red snapper, have been in the areas most affected by the oil spill that started off the mouth of the Mississippi River and moved east to the Florida Panhandle beaches.
Bringing things closer to home, fishermen and scientists from LSU have reported and documented lesions on fish caught in federal waters off Alabama.
The fish were caught off Orange Beach, one of the most popular red snapper fishing destinations in the world.
Here’s my theory on how this could happen.
Red snapper feed on shrimp, crabs and other baitfish in depths ranging from 60 and 200 feet of water.
The fish with lesions, which also includes a few sheepshead, were caught between 10 and 80 miles offshore from Orange Beach and the mouth of the Mississippi River.
This area falls right in line with the waters closed last year by NOAA to all fishing due to an influence of oil.
As part of the food chain, large fish eat small fish. From there, the fish developed lesions as large as a fifty-cent piece. I hope that’s not the case.
The NOAA issued this statement: “NOAA Fisheries Service takes these reports seriously and will continue to work with the fishing and seafood industries, academic, state, and federal partners to characterize the extent and possible implications of lesions on Gulf finfish.”
According to the Associated Press, Jim Cowan Jr., a scientist at the LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, said there’s no concrete data to tie the sick fish to the oil spill.
I hope he is wrong, but I have my doubts.
“I am not buying it either,” Mississippi Gulf Coast Charter Boat Association President Tom Becker said. “All of a sudden this starts happening and it’s in the area of the oil spill.
“I have been on the water for 27 years and I have never seen anything like it. I do know some of the research people who are catching the sick fish. Also, some fishermen are starting to catch the fish, too.”
If this is related to the oil spill, anglers from Florida to the Mississippi River could come in contact with the sick fish now that the recreational season for red snapper will be open.
If you do, here’s a helpful list offered by NOAA.
1. Release the fish back into the water with minimal to no handling. Use a fishhook-remover device.
2. Avoid contact with skin, especially if you have cuts or sores on your skin.
3. Document where you caught the fish, and if possible, photograph it. A website is being developed for anglers to post their findings.
4. Anglers are not advised to keep the sick fish because of the risks of the fish transmitting disease to humans.
5. If you bring in a red snapper with lesions, it does count toward your recreational fishing quota.
“This is another public perception that we do not need,” Becker said. “But if it’s true, we need to get the word out.
“Right now, we have four things impacting us. We are still dealing with the oil spill perception. The economy is bad and the Mississippi River floods. Also, the tornadoes in the area. We ve had cancellations due to all four. How much more can deal with?”
The first weekend of the National Fishing and Boating Week, which is this weekend, marks a free fishing weekend. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources in Biloxi said all anglers may fish without a license in the marine waters in Mississippi (south of 1nterstate 10).But all size and possession limits will be enforced.