Fisheries Experts Address Katrina Concerns

Hurricane Katrina raised questions and concerns about the health of marine resources along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Those questions include things like: Is the seafood safe to eat? What about water quality? There are also concerns about Hurricane Katrina's long term impact on coastal fisheries.

That's why USM's Gulf Coast Research Lab is hosting a forum Thursday night to address those issues.

Katrina's devastation on land is clearly visible. What's less clear is the storm's impact both underwater and in the fragile coastal wetlands that support our fishing and seafood industries.

"There are an awful lot of questions immediately after the storm. And you see the amount of destruction and all of the things that could be in the water that could be harmful," said Dr. Harriet Perry, a fisheries biologist at Gulf Coast Research Lab.

The hurricane damage onshore is evident. It's more difficult to assess the storm's impact on the seas.

"Time will tell like everything else, right," said biologist  Jim Franks.

Franks and Perry are research scientists at Gulf Coast Research Lab. Their work involves monitoring estuarine and offshore environments.

"Estuarine species, because they live in a changing environment, are very resilient. And there's every hope that our coastal resources will be back as good as ever," said Perry.

Katrina's storm surge not only destroyed structures on land, it also pounded oyster reefs underwater and ripped through delicate marsh grasses. But Mother Nature is resilient. Fisheries are already on the rebound.

"Initial sampling, initial monitoring indicates the speckled trout, the redfish and other species are actually coming back quite nicely. And in fact, we've had reports of some large fish and large numbers of fish being caught," says Jim Franks.

"I'm working particularly with some of the crab fishermen who've managed to get their boats and traps back in the water. And they're really catching a lot of crabs. And they're fat," Dr. Perry said.

One significant factor affecting the seafood industry and all coastal marine life is water quality. How did Hurricane Katrina change that? Experts from the Department of Environmental Quality will address those concerns.

"An awful lot of questions. Can I eat crabs? I'm catching fish in a certain place, is it safe to eat them? So, this is your chance to ask the experts," said Perry.