Redfish in Danger of Deformities Due to Oil Spills

New study proves long-term physical damage from even small amounts of oil

redfish catch at the boat
Louisiana is known for its redfish fishing. However, exposure to spilled oil could cause physical damage for the popular species.Sam Hudson

Louisiana is known as a redfish paradise. That's why a new study on the effects of oil exposure to the species should concern fans of this recreational fishery.

A report from the journal Science of the Total Environment found that contact with even small amounts of oil can cause deformities for redfish in the larval stage, according to a report on The Times Picayune's website. The published study states that even "micro-droplets" of oil, such as an amount breaking off after larger oil spills, can warp a redfish's skull and jaw and even twist backbones upward, to produce fish with awkward J-shaped bodies. Exposure to oil reduced the cardiac functions of redfish by 70 percent, according to the study. That makes it difficult for the fish to grow into the 40-pounders that make the recreational fishery so popular in Louisiana.

Alexis Khursigara, a marine scientist with the University of Texas and the study's lead author, said that oil spills kill marine wildlife but even survivors have long-term damages.

More than 1 million of the species, known as red drum, were caught in Louisiana waters last year. Only spotted seatrout, also called speckled trout, were more prevalent. The BP oil disaster severely impacted the recreational fishery in 2010. Last year alone there were 1,083 spills of various sizes reported from offshore drilling platforms, ships and other vessels in Louisiana waters, according to National Response Center data. Redfish adapt well to changing water quality and live in coastal estuaries, far from BP's Deepwater Horizon oil platform, so scientists thought they fared with minimal damage.

Recent research also shows birth defects from exposure to oil in slow-growing offshore fish such as tuna, amberjack and mahi mahi.