The White Marlin Open is a hallmark event in Ocean City. Last year, the tournament brought in more than 350 boats and 3,000 contestants – the comradery and excitement were palpable.
The excitement this year is similar to last, but something has changed. We’ve all heard about the plans to open the Atlantic to drilling. For the first time, fishermen are facing the prospect of our fisheries being pummeled by explosive noise, and our waters tainted by oil.
Could this be our last tournament before oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic changes fishing and the town of Ocean City forever? The Atlantic Coast Sportfishing Association hopes not.
Blasting the ocean with seismic airguns is the first step to offshore drilling. Huge arrays of airguns send deafening blasts toward the ocean floor in the search for oil and gas. The blasts go off every few seconds, for weeks or months at a time. The government has estimated significant harm to exposed marine mammals.
Of particular concern are impacts to species like the North Atlantic right whale and other marine life. As fishermen, we are not only worried about what these blasts would do to keystone species like whales, but also fish like marlin, tuna and mahi. The Ocean City economy relies on a healthy and abundant ocean.
Observations following seismic exploration have revealed decreases in catch rates of cod and haddock by as much as 60 percent. One study found that within an hour of seismic blasts, there was a 60 percent drop in zooplankton abundance nearly three-quarters of a mile from the blast site. Zooplankton form the base of the ocean food chain and a disruption to these tiny organisms could spell disaster for the many creatures that depend on them.
And once the drilling rigs show up, the threats only increase. We saw what happened to marine life following the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. We saw tar balls on beaches, fish die-offs and oil covered birds. Imagine the nightmare that would be for Ocean City.
Offshore oil can’t mean anything but trouble for our cherished white marlin. Seismic blasting and oil spills could disrupt their food sources.
When President Franklin Roosevelt called Ocean City the “White Marlin Capital of the World” after a 1939 fishing trip, we doubt he ever imagined that the bountiful waters would one day be threatened by seismic blasts, tar balls and oil slicks. The marine ecosystems that support our coastal way of life are too precious to be threatened for very little oil.
People all along the Atlantic have voiced opposition to offshore oil drilling and exploration. Those of us on the coast have the most to lose and our concerns should be considered before those of oil lobbyists. The government should listen to us and remove the Atlantic from the offshore drilling plan.
President of the Atlantic Coast Sportfishing Association, formerly known as the Atlantic Coast Chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association