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Gulf anglers could be entitled to $585 million after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, UF/IFAS study says

Apalachicola, Florida photographed for the 2015 Extension calendar.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Recreational anglers who normally fish in the Gulf of Mexico lost up to $585 million from lost fishing opportunities in the year of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and could be entitled to compensation, according to a new University of Florida study.

After a disaster such as an oil spill, trustees — which could include federal, state or tribal authorities – often attempt to secure financial compensation from those responsible.

In the Gulf oil spill, those monies would not go back to individual fishermen, but instead might fund ecosystem improvements or to stock more fish in the Gulf on the fishermen’s behalf, said UF food and resource economics professor Sherry Larkin.

In December 2012, BP agreed to pay $2.3 billion to commercial fishermen, seafood boat captains and crew, seafood vessel owners and oyster leaseholders, but trustees have yet to seek compensation on behalf of recreational fishermen.

“These are sizable losses borne by recreational users of publicly owned resources,” said Larkin, an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member. Because the oil spill affected thousands of square miles of fisheries, trustees could try to compensate for everyone who uses the Gulf in the future, Larkin said.

The study covers fishing areas off the coasts of Louisiana to Florida and up to North Carolina.

In the case of Florida, following the oil spill, fishermen who normally might have gone to Pensacola, for example, would either not fish or might instead head to the Atlantic Coast, Larkin said.

UF/IFAS researchers used an economic formula that uses the cost of accessing a recreational activity, primarily travel costs, to assess the activity’s value.

Researchers studied three types of anglers: those who fished from shore, those who piloted private or rental boats offshore and those who paid for guide boats to take them fishing. They assigned an economic value for each of the three types of trips.

The researchers found that anglers fishing from shore and those that hire fishing guides lost the most, an average of $29.65 and $34.27 per trip, perhaps because they are less able to change their fishing conditions as compared to those who pilot their own boats, who lost the least at $2.23 per trip. The study also found that private and rental boat users were affected differently, some substantially but others not much.

Larkin and her colleagues took data collected from interviews with saltwater anglers by NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program, which regularly surveys anglers on their catch. Each year approximately 40 million trips are taken in the U.S. Southeast.

The UF researchers used about 70,000 fishing trips each year for five years, 2006 to 2010, to learn how each type of anglers changed their fishing trips to avoid closures in federal fisheries following the oil spill. They arrived at the $585 million figure by multiplying the per-trip losses for each type of trip by the number of affected fishing trips, which was assumed to be for the year as if anglers could re-plan their trips to avoid closures, Larkin said.

The UF study is the first research study to estimate recreational fishing losses following such a large oil spill.

At 206 million gallons, the Deepwater Horizon was the largest marine oil spill in history. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, trustees can recover public losses from responsible parties. Larkin said she does not know if the UF study will ever be used in legal cases against BP, Deepwater Horizon or other potentially responsible parties.

The study authors emphasize their model only depicts losses for recreational fishermen, not commercial fishermen, hotels, restaurants, retail establishments that lost money after the BP oil spill. It also doesn’t measure ecosystem losses.

The study appeared online in July in the Journal of Environmental Management.

Writer: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Sherry Larkin, 352-294-7676, slarkin@ufl.edu

Cutline: Fishing boats can been seen at Apalachicola Bay on the Gulf in August. Sherry Larkin, a UF/IFAS food and resource economics professor, led a study that concluded that economic losses for Gulf recreational fishermen in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 at $585 million. UF/IFAS photo by Marisol Amador.