New Orleans, US -- Hundreds of kilograms of oily debris on beaches, declining seafood catches, and other troubling signs point towards an ecosystem in crisis in the wake of BP's 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
"It's disturbing what we're seeing," Louisiana Oyster Task Force member Brad Robin told Al Jazeera. "We don't have any more baby crabs, which is a bad sign. We're seeing things we've never seen before."
Robin, a commercial oyster fisherman who is also a member of the Louisiana Government Advisory Board, said that of the sea ground where he has harvested oysters in the past, only 30 percent of it is productive now.
"We're seeing crabs with holes in their shells, other seafood deformities. The state of Louisiana oyster season opened on October 15, and we can't find any production out there yet. There is no life out there."
According to Robin, entire sectors of the Louisiana oyster harvest areas are "dead or mostly dead." "I got 10 boats in my fleet and only two of them are operating, because I don't have the production to run the rest. We're nowhere near back to whole, and I can't tell you when or if it'll come back."
State of Louisiana statistics confirm that overall seafood catch numbers since the spill have declined.
"Everything is down"
Robin is not the only member of the Gulf's seafood industry to report bleak news. Kathy Birren and her husband own Hernando Beach Seafood, a wholesale seafood business, in Florida.
Shrimp with tumors continue to be found along the impact zone, from Louisiana to Florida [Dean Blanchard]
"I've seen a lot of change since the spill," Birren told Al Jazeera. "Our stone crab harvest has dropped off and not come back; the numbers are way lower. Typically you'll see some good crabbing somewhere along the west coast of Florida, but this last year we've had problems everywhere."
Birren said the problems are not just with the crabs. " We've also had our grouper fishing down since the spill," she added. "We've seen fish with tar balls in their stomachs from as far down as the Florida Keys. We had a grouper with tar balls in its stomach last month. Overall, everything is down."
According to Birren, many fishermen in her area are giving up. "People are dropping out of the fishing business, and selling out cheap because they have to. I'm in west-central Florida, but fishermen all the way down to Key West are struggling to make it. I look at my son's future, as he's just getting into the business, and we're worried."
Dean Blanchard, owner of a seafood business in Grand Isle, Louisiana, is also deeply troubled by what he is seeing. "We have big tar mats coming up on Elmers Island, Fouchon, Grand Isle, and Grand Terre," Blanchard told Al Jazeera. "Every time we have bad weather we get fresh tar balls and mats."
Blanchard said his business generates only about 15 percent of what it did before the spill. "It looks like it's getting worse," he said. "I told my wife when she goes to the mall she can only spend 15 percent what she used to spend."
Blanchard has also seen shrimp brought in with deformities, and has taken photographs of shrimp with tumors (see above). Others lack eyes. He attributes the deformities to BP's use of toxic dispersants to sink the spilled oil.
Eyeless shrimp, along with other seafood abnormalities, have become common in many areas along the Gulf Coast [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]
"Everybody living down here watched them spray their dispersants day in and day out. They sprayed our bays and our beaches," he said. "We got a problem, because BP says they didn't spray down here, but we had a priest that even saw them spraying. So either we got a lying priest, or BP is lying."
BP and the Coast Guard have told the media they have never sprayed dispersants within 10 miles of the coast, and that dispersants have never been used in bays.