Dead zone affects us

September 12, 2007; Daily Comet, Thibodaux

Shrimpers and crabbers in our area have really begun to feel the effects of the vast dead zone that annually plagues the Gulf of Mexico.

Each year, spawned by sewage and farm runoff from the length of the Mississippi River, the dead zone grows in the Gulf.

The nitrogen and phosphorous flow into the Gulf and feed algae blooms that are already in the water, causing them to grow at great rates.

When those blooms die, they sink to the bottom and decay, sucking the oxygen out of the water.

As a result of the process, other living things – most notably fish and other edibles – cannot live in the oxygen-depleted water.

Fish that are mobile can run away from the dead zone and find more-friendly waters.

But other sea life is not as lucky.

There is no way to control where the zone goes.

And most frighteningly, local fishermen say they are seeing the effects of it off our shores.

Shrimpers and crabbers say they are getting less of their haul because of the zone, this year estimated to be the third-largest in history.

“It’s just dried up,” Seafood company owner Dean Blanchard said last week. “So it looks like it’s gotten into the (Barataria Bay) and that’s a scary proposition.”

It is indeed scary, but it is not unexpected.

With the giant size of the dead zone – estimated this year at 5,200 square miles – there were bound to be dire consequences.

Much of our economy and our history are bound up in the seafood industries, which seem to fall on increasingly difficult times with each passing year.

We are eyewitnesses to the problem because our neighbors and family members fish the waters of the Gulf and the inland bays and marshes.

But much of the source of the problem – farms and sewer systems from here to Minnesota – are far from its eventual consequences.

Why would a farmer in Nebraska change his practices for the benefit of shrimpers he’s never met?

Clearly, this is a problem that crosses state borders and requires a federal solution.

A task force has set a goal that the dead zone will be decreased by 2015 after the material being dumped into the Mississippi is reduced by 35 to 45 percent.

But there seems to have been little or no follow-through on those lofty goals. If there has been, its effects are not yet being felt.

We have used this space before to call for a federal attack on this problem – the only kind of attack that can hope to work. And we do so again.

We implore our local, state and federal representatives to do what they can to let the rest of the nation know where its runoff goes and what it does.

Until this is a matter of concern for the rest of the U.S., we fear, it will remain our growing problem.

Editorials represent the opinions of this newspaper, and not of any one person.

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