University scientists have spotted the first indications oil is entering the Gulf seafood chain — in crab larvae — and one expert warns the effect on fisheries could last “years, probably not a matter of months” and affect many species.
Scientists with the University of Southern Mississippi and Tulane University in New Orleans have found droplets of oil in the larvae of blue crabs and fiddler crabs sampled from Louisiana to Pensacola, Fla.
The news comes as blobs of oil and tar continue to wash ashore in Mississippi in patches, with crews in chartreuse vests out cleaning beaches all along the coast on Thursday, and as state and federal fisheries from Louisiana to Florida are closed by the BP oil disaster.
"I think we will see this enter the food chain in a lot of ways — for plankton feeders, like menhaden, they are going to just actively take it in," said Harriet Perry, director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. "Fish are going to feed on (crab larvae). We have also just started seeing it on the fins of small, larval fish — their fins were encased in oil. That limits their mobility, so that makes them easy prey for other species. The oil's going to get into the food chain in a lot of ways."
Perry said researchers have not yet linked the hydrocarbons found in the crab larvae to the BP disaster, but she has little doubt it's the source. She said she has never seen such contamination in her 42 years of studying blue crab.