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Opening Spillway to Control Mississippi River Flooding Endangers Gulf Seafood

By Rhonda Miller | Published 09 May 2011 11:18am | comments
Fisheries biologists Read Hendon, left, and Tom McIlwain at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs.

The flooding Mississippi River is the latest threat to Gulf seafood. MPB's Rhonda Miller reports the opening of a spillway to manage the flood could wash out hope for recovery from last year's oil spill.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre spillway in Louisiana Monday to ease pressure on the levee system in New Orleans.

Joe Jewell of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says the freshwater will mix with saltwater and upset the balance necessary for the survival of Gulf Coast seafood.

"If we do have a large influx of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound, that could have a catastrophic effect for years to come on the oyster industry," Jewell said.

The Mississippi oyster season ends Thursday, and it’s been a tough one. Some oystermen didn’t work at all. Fisherman have been looking forward to shrimp season, which usually opens during the first two weeks of June.

But Jewell said the freshwater pouring into Mississippi Sound within a couple of weeks threatens shrimp, too.

"What will happen is all the smallest shrimp that are developing now, well along their way to being adults, those would potentially be killed," Jewell said.

Tom McIlwain is a fisheries biologist with the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. McIlwain said the impact of the freshwater depends on how long the spillway stays open.

"The impact would be the reduction of salinity. If it’s a long-term opening and the salinity of the water approaches that of freshwater, then the oysters can’t stand that for a long period of time," McIlwain said.

The fertile breeding grounds for marine life in the marshes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast depend on a dynamic balance of saltwater and freshwater.

The future of those breeding grounds now depends on scientists and engineers doing their best to keep the swollen Mississippi River under control.

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Fisheries biologists Read Hendon, left, and Tom McIlwain at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory in Ocean Springs.


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