Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches, Lectures

Event Name/Location

International Oil Spill Conference

Event Name

2020 International Oil Spill Conference

Event Location

Virtual Conference

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill occurred in a region of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) supporting abundant, diverse and valuable communities of fishes and fishers. The economy of the northern GoM is inextricably tied to the natural resource bases of the region (tourism, fishing, oil and gas, etc.) and thus the coupling between the human and ecological systems is tight and subject both feed-back and, to some extent, feed-forward controls. Management actions taken during the 87-day DWH spill incident included the closure of over 280,000 km2 of productive fishing area (about 1/3 of USA federal waters in the GoM), resulting in significant declines in catches and revenues for some critical species for several months after the spill. As well, a variety of oil spill countermeasures including the use of chemical dispersants (at the well head and the sea surface), releases of freshwater into marshes to staunch the progression of oil ashore, creation of sand berms, burning of oil at sea and mechanical pickup were employed. Because of the closures, fishers were compensated for lost fishing opportunities in a number of ways, including employment in oil spill response efforts (the VoO or Vessel of Opportunity program), accepting compensation payments from the Responsible Parties, and moving fishing areas and shifting to open areas of the GoM. Some fisheries were heavily impacted during 2010 (e.g., menhaden and inshore invertebrate fisheries), while for others, area shifting resulted in little change in GoM-wide fishery catches (e.g., red snapper, penaeid shrimps). In the 10 years since the DWH disaster, many fisheries have recovered, exhibiting patterns of inter-annual variability consistent with those seen prior to the spill, but other species have shown little to no recovery. One of the critical issues in understanding oil spill effects is that of causal inference given multiple simultaneous drivers and feedbacks, thus the appeal of viewing fish-fishery interactions as a coupled human and natural system.

Results of long-term monitoring studies document a variety of responses of various taxa occupying diverse habitats from estuarine/coastal to open ocean. These impacts resulted both from oil contamination and from various response countermeasures. Differential recovery trajectories are mediated by life history aspects contributing to resilience and to some extent the degree of ongoing contamination from pools of residual oil and other chronic sources. Relatively resilient species were those exhibiting low to moderate modularity (near ubiquitous species or populations) and those with relatively short life cycles. Fishing community resilience to the spill was related to a variety of employment alternatives during closures and facilitated by the capacity of fishers to adapt to non-traditional opportunities in fishing and by financial assistance programs. Overall, the level of business failures during and just after DWH was lower than historical averages for important reef fish fisheries of the Gulf.


Open Access

Conference Proceeding Title

Volume 2021, Issue 1




International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC)


First Page



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