Just when it looked like clear sailing…

Everett Johnson
Hurricanes, $4.00 gasoline, more hurricanes, economic crises, NMFS drastically reducing bag limits and cutting or closing seasons, droughts and freezes; can there be anything left to pelt our beleaguered fishing industry? Well, let's see. How about the largest offshore drilling disaster on record?

Just when it looked as though we might finally sail into calm seas as an industry and a pastime, the mother of all drilling disasters spreads a blanket of crude across the Gulf of Mexico. All fishing is now closed between the Mississippi Delta and the Florida Panhandle. The oil is still gushing.

We all prayed a containment dome would seal the leak that fired and sank the Deep Water Horizon, claiming the lives of eleven workers. Alas, such was not to be, not yet anyway.

Long the Mecca of bluewater anglers, Gulf of Mexico oil and gas platforms create aggregations of more species and provide more fishing structure than anything Mother Nature gave us. Trouble is though, the same as nature, oil and gas operations have the ability to take away, too.

Thus far, damage to inshore and offshore fisheries is anybody's guess. And apart from this, when all the investigations and environmental assessments are made and the blaming is done, fees collected and penalties levied, even greater damage and danger could arise from this whole affair.

Oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico is a highly endangered element of our entire social and economic structure the way I see it. Depending which side wins in the political nightmare that is sure to ensue, the heyday of supply and further exploration in the Gulf may have come and gone.

Continued offshore supply and exploration can only be seen as a cornerstone in the giant and delicate equation of U.S. energy supply. Without it we would be held further captive to Middle-Eastern producers. Yet not all elected to high office will likely see it that way. Neither will they agree to tapping other domestic reserves that do not lie a mile beneath the waves and five miles into the ocean floor.

More than fishing is at stake. Energy policy will no doubt be revised and process controls could be enacted that render Gulf oil too expensive. The heart of our entire economic system will be threatened, and if it fails, gone will be a way of life and standard of living for all Americans. In the reordering, if such a term is applicable, we'll have plenty to worry about besides fishing closures and fewer platforms to fish. Unless, of course, that is how one makes their living, and they will have already been ruined.

It is impossible to fathom the full scope of damage to delicate estuarine and Gulf habitat as the makings of the mess are still flowing freely. Wind and current have been transporting the oil slicks away from Texas shores but that could change. Current eddies form in mysterious ways and June marks the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season. Either and both have potential to spread the oily sludge to any Gulf shore. And while Texans are currently breathing sighs of relief; don't hold your breath.

Our prayers and thoughts go out to the families and friends of those who suffered on the Deep Water Horizon. Likewise, we send great sympathy to those in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama fishing community who face impending economic ruin in the aftermath.