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Gulf oil spill forces cancellation of Gulf Coast sportfishing tournaments

May 27, 2010 |  5:14 pm

Oil floats on the waters surface while boats work in the background.

In what is likely a harbinger of things to come, at least a dozen sportfishing tournaments have already been canceled in the Gulf Coast, victims of the massive BP oil spill.

Kevin Sluder, chairman of the Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club, called off its 40th annual International Billfish Tournament usually held on July 4 because the federal government has closed almost a quarter of the Gulf to fishing, reports Associated Press.

"I'm literally sick to my stomach thinking about this. I just hope they get it cleaned up and we aren't talking about this being canceled again next year," said Sluder, 32, a Pensacola, Fla.-area native who grew up fishing the Gulf with his father, a former tournament chairman.

The area is popular with anglers and tournament organizers, thanks to the abundance of huge blue marlin, swordfish, tuna and other species that populate the region. Just two years ago, the top catch in the Pensacola tournament was a 751-pound blue marlin.

But since the explosion at an oil rig on April 20 that to date has caused more than 7 million gallons of crude to spew into the water, tournament sponsors have had no choice but to call off their events.

According to Scott Delaney, vice president of tournaments for Alabama's Mobile Big Game Fishing Club, large mahi mahi and wahoo are normally found off the sea shelf in blue water near the site of the explosion. These big fish feed on smaller ones, which feed off the complex ecosystems formed around the drilling rigs.

The club's tournament, normally scheduled to take place this weekend, was canceled in early May. And this will echo throughout the area, hitting regional businesses that cater to anglers.

"It's just like the food chain there in the Gulf, you've got that same economic food chain here on the shore. You got the captains, the marinas, so much impact," Delaney said.

Delaney worries about what will happen once the leak is stopped and cleanup begins.

"I'm not a scientist but I know there is going to be such a trickle-down effect because the ecosystem is so diverse from bottom to top," added Delaney. "The blue marlin might be OK, but the fish it feeds on and the fish that fish feeds on all the way down. I think it's just going to be devastating."

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Oil floats on the water's surface while boats work in the background. Credit: Larry W. Smith / European Pressphoto Agency

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