The great Gulf of Mexico oil spill from an drilling rig early this year, spewing out millions of tons of crude oil into the surrounding waters, created a major contamination scare for sea foods caught in states like Louisiana. A similar situation was recreated in Mumbai waters in India when two freight ships collided causing spillage from these vessels creating grave apprehensions about its impact on fish caught nearby. It goes to the credit of the local civic authorities that they were able foresee some dangers ahead and issued an advisory not to consume fish caught for some time before its safety is established. It was a fortunate coincidence that fish harvesting is not usually done during monsoon period and most of the fish consumed are imported from other states. Though comparatively smaller quantity of oil spilled might not pose any serious food safety problem, one of the reports indicating that some pesticides were also spilt, originating from one the of ships involved, does cause some concern requiring further vigil.
"The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) as well as state departments in Raigad district have advised people not to consume fish for some time, as they might be contaminated due to the oil spill near the Mumbai harbour. Uran taluka tehsildar, Dilip Walunj, said that it was only a matter of few days that the fish ban advisory had been issued. "Fishermen traditionally do not venture out during monsoon due to the rough seas. This practice also allows fish to breed," he added. However, the Koli community is hopeful the incident will not hit their livelihood as monsoon is a lean period for trade. This, they claim, coupled with the fact that devout Hindus are observing Shravan, will ensure that even consumers are not affected. Moreshwar Patil, chairman of the Maharashtra Machhimar Kruti Samiti, said that most of the fish available in Mumbai's markets during this time of year comes in from outside, like Diamond Harbour in West Bengal, Paradip in Orissa, and areas of Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. "Fishermen from Maharashtra are obeying the official monsoon ban until August 15. Most of the salt water fish as well as Bengali sweet water favourites have been coming in from outside," Patil said. "Of the few fishermen who do venture out, some feel the catch of Bombay duck off Colaba may be hit."
Though later reports based on some preliminary investigation and assessment indicated that the fish is safe for consumption, it is not curtains down still because traditionally during monsoon fish harvest is avoided to replenish the stock through natural breeding. Whether the new crop of fish emerging after this period would carry any contamination needs to be ascertained before allowing fishing on the coastal areas near Mumbai. One of the surprises emerging from the Gulf of Mexico spill was that "oil eating" microbes present naturally in sea water have unimaginable capacity to "devour' the hydrocarbons and this is an encouraging sign.