Louisiana bears the burden of Mississippi River runoff

In the coastal region of Cypremort Point, Louisiana, resident Thomas Olander, a shrimp fisherman, has reported a decline in both the shrimp catch size and abundance, and attributes it to the annual “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. The dead zone, extending over an area comparable in size to Connecticut this summer at 5,827 square miles, is caused by algae blooms originating from high nutrient levels introduced by fertilizer runoffs from farms within the Mississippi River Basin.

Established in the 1990s, the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force, comprised of federal and state agencies, initially aimed to reduce the problem by 20% by the year 2025. But despite progress, this target still remains unmet, and even aggravated in some places, as nitrogen loads are down, while phosphorus ones are up by 22% year-on-year, as a report by the U.S Geological Survey suggests.

Stakeholders are expressing frustration. Doug Daigle, a scientist at Louisiana State University and the lead of the Louisiana Hypoxia Working Group, is calling for strengthened actions from both task force members and Louisiana government themselves, including funding and enforced limits on nitrogen and phosphorus discharges via federal Clean Water Act measures. The problem, however, seems systemic due to a lack of active and prioritized efforts in both states and at task force levels.

Fishermen, such as Thomas Olander, are hopeful that further investigations, including those sponsored through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, will yield meaningful actions reducing the harmful algal blooms in the Gulf, preserving aquatic life, and, by implication, safeguarding food security in coastal regions affected by these annual phenomena.

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