Gulf Coast Research Lab Surveys Fisheries

We've seen much evidence of Hurricane Katrina's destruction "on land". But the massive storm also did plenty of damage on and under the water.

The impact on coastal fisheries was enormous. A team of biologists from Gulf Coast Research Lab spent the day on the water.

Hurricane Katrina definitely stirred up coastal waters. Sampling trips like this one, will help determine the storm's impact on fisheries.

The post-storm research trip is a continuation of a fisheries monitoring program that began several decades ago.

"We have sampled these same stations monthly for 35 plus years. So, we felt it was important for the integrity of that data base to get out and sample following Katrina," said fisheries biologist, Dr. Harriet Perry.

An important part of the sampling is pulling trawl nets. Ten minute pulls through Back Bay waters give biologists a good idea of the marine life below the surface.

"We're looking for distribution and abundance of fishes, crabs and shrimp. And we're also doing water quality. So, we're looking at dissolved oxygen, temperature and salinity," said Dr. Perry.

"My sense is we have seen decreased numbers of species and perhaps decreased abundance because we encountered several pockets of low dissolved oxygen on the bottom," Dr. Perry added.

Grounded or submerged boats can also cause problems for marine life.

"Fuel spills would have some impact and those are being monitored very closely by the Department of Environmental Quality. And they've been on the water since the second day after the storm," said Dr. Perry.

Like the recovery process on land, restoration of the fisheries will take time. But unlike the onshore recovery, there's little man can do to hasten the process at sea. Nature must mend itself, over time.

"Estuarine species are incredibly resilient and they have that ability to restore themselves. We saw it after, well, we saw it after all the major hurricanes," she said.

And biologists are confident they'll see that same recovery and restoration in the wake of Katrina.