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Galveston Bay Oil Spill Threatens Multibillion Dollar Fishing Industry, Several Species

The recent oil tanker collision that dumped 168,000 gallons of crude oil spill into Texas's Galveston Bay may cause significant damage to fish and bird species in the region.

Fishing industry and marine wildlife officials are concerned that the Galveston Bay oil spill could have a big negative impact on the region's multibillion-dollar sport and commercial fishing industry and the species that support it, according to the Texas Tribune.

"An awful lot of things that are the most at risk are in the water" Doug Rader, chief oceans scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Tribune. "The health of the seafood populations is intimately tied to the health of the bay."

Most of Galveston Bay is closed to fishing until the oil is cleaned up. The spill has been contained, but has covered an area that is important to sport and commercial fishing. Wildlife officials and fishing industry experts are also concerned the oil will leave a lasting impact on the species under the surface.

Image via Wall Street Journal
Image via Wall Street Journal

The Species at Risk

The most commercially viable species in the region is shrimp. The oil spill coincides with the annual Gulf shrimp spawning season. During this time of year, shrimp hatch in the Gulf of Mexico and drift towards the Galveston Bay to use the bay's coastal waters and marshes as habitat and food sources. While migrating, the shrimp are likely to come into contact with sunken crude oil around the bay.

A number of other species, such as blue crab and menhaden, a prey fish that's commonly harvested for fish oil, are both in danger from the oil spill.

But fish species aren't the only ones at risk: several birds have already been found covered in oil. As you can see in the map above, the oil spill touches the Horseshoe Marsh and Bolivar Flats bird sanctuaries. In the coming weeks, both sanctuaries will play host to 50,000-70,000 migrating birds. The Audubon Society is currently spearheading efforts to protect birds in the region.

Image via Audubon Society/Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle/AP
Image via Audubon Society/Melissa Phillip/Houston Chronicle/AP

Remember the BP oil spill that happened in the Gulf back in 2010? This week, a scientific study was released that showed how the oil spill left critical heart, lung and birth defects in yellowfin amberjack, yellowfin tuna and bluefin tuna. The study is a sharp reminder of the long-term negative impact oil spills can have on fish and animal species.

A Thriving Sport Fishing Industry in Danger

Galveston Bay has historically been a thriving sport fishing destination on the Gulf of Mexico. One of the most popular angling areas in the bay, the Texas City Dike, has been temporarily closed to anglers.

"Fishing the dike is one of the best places to fish around here," Texas City fisherman Ron White told Click2Houston. "So, not having the dike right now in the springtime is not a good thing."

Seafood stores in Texas City are slammed with customers, as people are trying to buy fish before the local supply gets too low. Bait stores are also feeling the pinch. According to local news, some bait shops usually get around 1,500 customers on a regular day, but now they are reporting as low as five per day.

RELATED: Are you a Gulf angler? Check out this Texas saltwater fishing wish list

We will continue to keep you updated on the Galveston Bay oil spill as cleanup efforts continue.

 Are you an angler based in the Galveston area? We'd love to hear from you. Share your thoughts on the oil spill and how it's affected you and the local community. 

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Galveston Bay Oil Spill Threatens Multibillion Dollar Fishing Industry, Several Species