Study: Gulf’s recreational anglers entitled to $585 million for Deepwater Horizon losses

By on September 24, 2014

In 2012, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill claimed 11 human lives and countless non-human lives. While the overall environmental damage is difficult to quantify, trustees representing property owners, professionals and governments are seeking monetary reparations for the extensive damages. A new study from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences shows that recreational anglers may be entitled to significant compensation following the spill that tarnished the Gulf coast.

Although the disaster’s impact on the environment and commercial fishing garnered the most media attention, recreational anglers haven’t gone unaffected by the 4.9 million barrels of oil pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, UF food and resource economics professor Sherry Larkin says that recreational anglers could be owed up to $585 million due to lost fishing opportunities.

The study is built around open-source data from NOAA’s Marine Recreational Information Program, which surveys saltwater anglers about their catches, concerns and general fishing experience. The researchers determined the value of recreational fishing activities with an economic formula based on the activity’s costs, primarily those associated with travel. Multiplying per-trip losses for each trip type by the number of affected trips brought the researchers to the hefty total of $585 million.

Commercial fishermen have already received $2.3 billion from BP, the fossil fuel giant responsible for the mess. But recreational anglers haven’t seen a dime, and while Larkin says that no individual fisherman should expect compensation, there are ways to invest the money that would benefit the recreational fishing industry in the Gulf.

“Well, [individuals] would not be compensated directly since no one knows who they are!” Larkin said. “The best way to compensate is to try to improve recreational fishing, or maybe even the recreational fishing experience.” She mentioned the installation of artificial reefs as an example of the former, and improvements to boat ramps as an example of the latter.

Anglers lost fishing opportunities along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the spill (Credit: kris krüg, via Flickr)

Anglers lost fishing opportunities along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the spill (Credit: kris krüg, via Flickr)

So far, recreational anglers haven’t been openly acknowledged as an affected party to the Deepwater spill. Only trustees are able to seek compensation from BP, Larkin said, a group that includes tribal, state and federal governments. Recreational anglers come to the Gulf from many states, making it hard to determine which trustees should represent whom.

The data revealed that, on a per-trip basis, anglers that rely on charter services or fish from shore lost the most from the spill, as they are less able to relocate for better conditions than private boat owners, who lost the least. However, private boat owners were not affected equally, a finding that Larkin said was interesting.

“Some were more willing to travel to substitute sites and some may have even been curious and taken more trips, or taken what they thought might be their last trips before the Gulf may be ruined,” Larkin explained.

The study delivers a strong case for recreational fishing compensation through simple economics and unbiased math, but Larkin can’t be sure that her research will make enough waves to procure the cash.

“I don’t know,” she said when asked if the study would have an impact on compensation. “Since the data is freely available I would expect that those charged with developing the official estimates will undertake their own study.” She noted that the study wasn’t intended to provide a solution for compensation, but rather to serve as a framework for compensation.

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

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