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Oil spill meeting disappoints residents

By Sara Sneath
April 3, 2014 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated April 3, 2014 at 11:04 p.m.


PORT O'CONNOR - Commercial fishermen and women, oyster harvesters and shrimpers - people who make their living along the Gulf Coast - wanted answers Thursday night from government officials, but many walked away from a meeting disappointed, some even angry.

The residents packed the gymnasium bleachers at Port O'Connor Elementary School. They wanted to know about the oil that drifted south from a 168,000-gallon spill in the Houston Ship Channel. But officials had no professional translator to speak to about half of them in their native Spanish.

Even fishermen and women who speak English left the gym early, feeling as if their questions were unanswered.

Many began filing out the door before the meeting ended. One shouted "I'd rather be watching TV" as he walked out the door.

"All they care about is the wildlife, the birds. They don't care about the fishermen," Sandy Taylor, a commercial oysterwoman, said.

The meeting Thursday night at the school came after more than 60 Calhoun County fishermen and women met with an attorney because their questions about the effects of the oil spill on seafood were unanswered.

Despite several assertions that Matagorda Bay's closure to oystering was an "unfortunate coincidence" resulting from a toxic algae bloom from Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman Jonathan Huss, oyster harvesters continued a line of questioning showing doubt. Dinophysis algae produces a toxin in the stomach of oysters, clams and mussels that can lead to seafood poisoning in humans. Fishing in the area was not closed because of the algae because humans don't eat the entire fish as they do with clams, oysters and mussels, Huss said.

"It's not fatal, but you may want to die after you've had it for three days," Huss said of the seafood poisoning symptoms, which include severe diarrhea.

"Red tide blooms in the heat; why is this algae blooming in the winter?" one oysterman asked. The unified command facilitator for the meeting stopped answering questions linking the oyster closures to the oil spill, stating that the two events were unrelated.

Texas Department of State Health Services will be using a map of the oil's route down the Gulf Coast to decide which oyster bays will be tested for polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a toxin from oil, Huss said. He said the only beds that would be tested are the ones where oil was above the oyster bed for a significant amount of time. Bays where oil did not enter would not be tested, Huss said.

Several of the fishermen at the meeting said they had seen oil in Matagorda Bay. Huss responded that when the algae surfaces in significant amounts, it can appear as reddish diesel floating on the water.

The heavy oil resulting from the shipwreck in Galveston Bay is lighter than water and will float for a "long, long time," said Kirby Inland Marine spokesman Jim Guidry. Kirby Marine is the responsible party for the cleanup.

Some of the oil will evaporate, and what is left behind will be very dark in color, he said.

On average, Dinophysis algae blooms take 18 to 36 days to clear up, Huss said. The oystering season closes April 30.

"We don't feel like we're going no where. We need somebody to double-check what they say," Erasmo Montemayor, a commercial fishermen, said of the meeting after he walked out.

Montemayor said he didn't feel as if oyster harvesters' concerns were addressed.

"I don't know where that bloom came from," Taylor said.

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