In a rare display of independence, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission today (July 8) refused to go along with recommendations of the agency it is charged with governing and overturned catch-and-release fishing only two days after being enacted.
The policy was released by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on Tuesday evening, more than 60 days after rolling fishing closures began following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“I’m not against catch and release,” said the commission Chairman Stephen Oats after casting the tie-breaking vote that overturned the new policy. “I feel there needed to be more input from the professionals and the public.”
Oats was joined in the 4-3 vote against catch and release by commissioners Earl King Jr., Stephen Sagrera and Michael Voisin.
Voting in favor of catch and release were Ann Taylor, Patrick Morrow and Ronald Graham.
“I really think the recreational fishermen have suffered dramatically,” Morrow explained. “Just to give the recreational fishermen the opportunity to go and fish is important, to have everybody enjoying Louisiana’s Sportsman’s Paradise.”
Before the vote, LDWF Secretary Robert Barham and State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry acknowledged that all tests conducted to this point have shown no evidence of contamination – a fact that Barham and other LDWF officials have admitted.
However, they expressed concern about the dispersant used in the spill, which they said could be converting oil’s chemical composition and causing those remaining to pollute the water.
“The volatile compounds that normally leave the oil when it comes to the surface … spread through the water column,” Barham said.
Guidry expressed the same concern, but admitted there is little risk to the public from oil or the dispersants.
“We’re really not finding any chemicals that impact the health of our seafood,” Guidry said.
And, he went on to say he doesn’t expect to find any tissue contamination by hydrocarbons and the dispersant Corexit.
“When you have mercury in fish, it accumulates (in fish flesh),” Guidry said. “We’re told with the hydrocarbons and dispersants this isn’t going to happen.
“Even if it gets in seafood it doesn’t bio-accumulate. Our seafood is safe.”
And, he said, it would take massive exposure to cause any problems – even if there would ever be any contamination outside of heavy metals.
“You have to eat a lot it and eat a lot of it for years,” Guidry said.
That said, Guidry did say the federal Food and Drug Administration has provided a list of new contaminants for which to test based on the recently revealed ingredients of Corexit.
“Right now, when I tell you it’s safe according to our tests, it’s safe for what we’re testing for,” he said. “We haven’t tested everything.”
Testing protocols for new rounds of testing for the expanded list of contaminants should be enacted in late July or August, he said.
However, Guidry said he supported a policy of precautionary closures until all the oil is cleaned up.
“Until we stop the leak and clean up the oil, we’re going to be in the closing, reopening mode,” Guidry said.
That despite his admission that, just as there is no proof there are health concerns with fish today, all the additional testing could be unnecessary.
“We may end up with tests that show none of this was very dangerous,” Guidry said.
During the public-comment period before the Commission vote, Louisiana Sportsman contributor Chris Ginn told members he was confused why he could catch and eat mercury contaminated fish.
“I’m being advised about eating fish that we know to be harmful, but in these closed areas I’m being banned when the fish are not known to be harmful,” Ginn said.
LouisianaSportsman.com’s Travis Miller (a.k.a. tmiller20) said it was a matter of personal responsibility, and that closures shouldn’t be enacted without clear scientific evidence of contamination.
“I might drive out of here and get hit by a truck,” Miller said. “Might is not good enough to shut down a Louisiana industry.”
Ed Sexton, who goes by the same name on the site, was even more strenuous, saying that the changing reasons for maintaining the fishing closures have been frustrating.
“They have yet to find any finfish that are contaminated, and I’m hearing we’ve got something else to test for,” Sexton said. “Show me why I can’t fish. Show me some information on tainted fish and something being wrong with them.”
And he summed up several of the other speakers – that anglers should be allowed to make personal decisions about whether or not to keep fish unless tests reveal health threats.
“The one thing I am sure of is I don’t want the government taking care of me,” Sexton said. “I’m smart enough to take care of myself. I think a lot of people are tired of the government trying to take care of them.”
Capt. Dudley Vandenborre agreed.
“When I get a fish to the boat, I really don’t need the (LDWF) to tell me that fish is edible,” Vandenborre said. “I know that fish is edible.
“Most of the heavy metals and stuff are in the stomach of the fish. We cut that out.”
However, there were those that spoke out against catch and release fishing – and all other fishing in oil-impacted areas.
“Do we really want people out there fishing for speckled trout and finfish doing more damage to the resources?” Cocodrie’s Capt. Stu Scheer asked. “I can’t see people going out and not keeping (fish) … so I don’t see adding to the enforcement burden.”
Reel Screamers Guide Service’s Capt. Daryl Carpenter, speaking as head of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association, said his group also was opposed the catch-and-release fishing.
“Until they can test everything and ensure they are safe, I just don’t think we should be pulling these fish out of the water,” Carpenter said. “If an oiled area is oiled enough that we can’t take fish out, then let’s have it closed and hope the fish survive as best they can.”
Once all the comments had concluded, commissioner Voisin made a motion that all of Barham’s actions during the past month – with the exception of the catch-and-release policy – be ratified.
“I want to support the department, but after hearing the discussion, I’m just confused by the (agency’s typed explanation of the catch-and-release) language,” Voisin said.
After overturning the catch-and-release measure, however, commissioner did pass unanimously a resolution proposed by Taylor that called on LDWF officials to lift the closures if new tests don’t reveal any problems.
“It is our desire that, as soon as the new tests are completed on a sufficient number of fish in an area, if they show no contamination we open the recreational fishing in that area, and we keep those areas open until tests indicate contamination,” Taylor’s resolution stated.