California oil spill: surfing, swimming OK but fishing

Scott Breneman, owner of West Caught Fish, slices fish for a customer at a market in Newport Beach, Calif., Wednesday, October 27, 2021. Breneman said he fished 90 miles (145 kilometers) off the coast of Orange County, well beyond an area closed to fishing by the state following a crude pipeline spill. Despite this, he said business had fallen due to consumer concerns about the impact of the spill on local fish. Breneman said he hopes that when the state completes its safety studies and reopens fishing along the coast, business will rebound. (AP Photo / Amy Taxin)

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Four weeks after an oil spill washed drops of crude off the Southern California coast, surfers have returned to the waves and people are playing in the waves.

But fishermen still cannot drop lines in the same waters.

California has banned fishing in an area stretching about 9.7 to 12 miles off the coast of Orange County since an undersea pipeline spilled at least about 25,000 gallons ( 94,635 liters) of crude oil in the Pacific Ocean.

State environmental health experts are conducting studies to determine if shellfish and fish are safe for human consumption – a process that is expected to take weeks or more.

Scott Breneman, owner of West Caught Fish, said he still fished for tuna and black cod well beyond the no-go zone. He said he was able to continue selling his catch to restaurants, but customers were not buying as they usually do at a popular Newport Beach fish market due to concerns about the fishing ban from the ‘State.

“People assume the local fish are contaminated, and we are fishing about 90 miles from the beach here, a long way away,” Breneman said, adding that he was going fishing about half as much as usual. “I don’t want to take the resource when I can’t sell it.”

As life along the coast returns to normal, commercial fishermen and charter operators have been particularly affected by the closures. Some have joined the lawsuits against the owner of Houston’s Amplify Energy pipeline and say their biggest fear is that the stigma of the spill will keep tourists away even after the oily tar that washed up on beaches is long gone.

Eric Zelien, owner of EZ Sportfishing in Huntington Beach, said guests have canceled fishing trips even though there are many areas where fishing is permitted. Instead of taking daily trips, he now takes groups once or twice a week.

“Most of our residents are rescheduling their trips. It’s kind of like when COVID first hit, ”he said.

“When you hear an oil spill, everyone thinks of Exxon Valdez,” Zelien said, referring to the tanker that ran aground in 1989 in Prince William Sound, Alaska and spilled millions of gallons. “They are panicking because the whole ocean is covered in oil and everything is in a state of disrepair.”

Conservationists initially feared the worst when they learned of the spill on October 2. The initial estimate was that the spill could have been five times larger than the amount later announced by authorities. The Coast Guard said much of the kilometer-long oil plume appeared to shatter at sea, limiting the impact on sensitive wetlands and wildlife along the coast.

The beaches of Huntington Beach, known as “Surf City USA”, were closed to swimming and surfing for a week. But surfers there and near Newport Beach quickly got back on the waves after workers cleaned up the sand and local officials tested the water, deeming it safe to get in.

But authorities say eating fish in the water is not the same as swimming in it. Fish in oil spill areas can ingest petroleum, which contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that can cause cancer if consumed in certain amounts, said Susan Klasing, chief of the fish, ecotoxicology and water section in the office. Californian Environmental Health Risk Assessment.

She said the oil breaks down over time, so there’s no doubt the fishing will resume, it’s just a matter of when.

State officials collect samples of seashells along the shore and fish off the coast and send them to a laboratory for analysis. Once the tests are complete, state officials will assess whether the closure of the fishing grounds can be lifted, she said.

This process took about six weeks after a 2015 oil spill in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.

The spill off the coast of Orange County was caused by a leak in the pipeline that was carrying crude oil from three offshore platforms. The cause is under investigation, but federal officials said the pipeline was likely initially damaged by a ship’s anchor.

The closure of the fisheries has not only upset those who make a living this way. It has become a recreational activity for many who live near water. Signs are posted on area beaches warning that fishing is prohibited, though a handful of people still drop lines at local piers.

Ted Reckas of Laguna Beach said he was back to swimming and surfing at the beach, but since the spill lobster diving has been suspended, which he usually does when the season opens in October.

“All of this upsets me, not just lobster fishing,” said Reckas, who for years walked from his house to the beach to dive and bring back his catch for friends and family.

He added: “Obviously it was disappointing, but there is a whole ecosystem of marine life that is affected by this. How many oil spills do we need to have before we find a better way? ”

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