June 24, 2010

State Scientists Collecting Fish and Shellfish Samples in Preparation for Any Potential Effects from Gulf Oil Spill

MOREHEAD CITY – State fisheries scientists are collecting samples of fish and shellfish to use for baseline background comparisons for seafood harvested in North Carolina if contaminants from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reach North Carolina waters.

“We still believe there is a very low probability that our state will see any significant effects from the oil spill, but just in case, we’re collecting these samples and securing them for analysis at a later date,” said Secretary Dee Freeman of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Biologists with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries are collecting fish, shrimp and crabs from different coastal rivers, sounds and ocean waters of the state, following specific scientific collection protocols for handling and storing the samples.

Likewise, environmental specialists with the Shellfish Sanitation and Recreational Quality Section of the N.C. Division of Environmental Health are collecting oysters and clams.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has caused extremely large amounts of crude oil to be released into the environment. Oil contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are chemical hazards. These contaminants can accumulate in seafood at levels that can cause illness. The presence of petroleum taint can also render seafood unfit for human consumption.

Additionally, fish or shellfish exposure to high concentrations of these toxins, either directly or through eating contaminated plants or animals, may reduce their growth and reproduction, affecting populations. These effects can last for many years, depending on the concentration of oil.

Should state authorities begin to see impacts in North Carolina waters from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the fish and shellfish samples collected now can be tested and used as a baseline to compare to samples collected in North Carolina following observed impact from the oil spill to help determine the extent of contamination.

This information, should it show contamination levels high enough to cause a health risk, could help fisheries officials determine if they should close certain waters to seafood harvesting and fishing. The information would also offer proof of environmental impact, leading to economic impact, should the state seek financial compensation for damages from the oil industry.

For more information, contact Patricia Smith, public information officer with the Division of Marine Fisheries, at (252) 808-8025 or Tricia.Smith@ncdenr.gov, or Laura Leonard, public information officer with the Division of Environmental Health, at (919) 715-3204 or Laura.Leonard@ncdenr.gov.

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