Study Shows SF Bay Oil Spill Damaged Herring Stocks

Byline: Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A cargo ship accident that dumped tens of thousands of gallons of thick, tarry ship fuel into San Francisco Bay caused lasting damage to the region’s once-plentiful schools of Pacific herring, the bay’s only commercially fished species, according to a study released Dec. 26.

Herring embryos collected from bay shorelines starting about three months after the November 2007 Cosco Busan spill had unusually high death rates and suffered from a range of ailments and deformities associated with exposure to the chemicals in crude oil, the study found.

“The majority of embryos in samples from oiled sites were dead on examination in the laboratory,” wrote the study’s authors, who were led by John Incardona, a toxicologist with the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By 2010, death rates had returned to normal, but the embryos continued to show heart defects that are a common symptom of oil exposure.

The bay’s Pacific herring are the largest coastal population in the continental U.S. and a key element of the bay’s complex food chain, according to the study, which was published online in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

The spill resulted from the massive cargo ship striking one of the pillars of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in heavy fog. It killed more than 6,800 birds and closed beaches to swimmers for weeks.

In 2009, California regulators canceled the bay’s herring fishing season, which typically begins in January. The state said the herring population in the bay had reached an all-time low.

— Marcus Wohlsen

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