Reviving the Dead Zone

Solutions to Benefit Both Gulf Coast Fishers and Midwest Farmers

Rebecca Boehm

Published Jun 1, 2020

Cover of 2020 UCS report, Reviving the Dead Zone

People who fish in the Gulf of Mexico have a persistent problem. A large “dead zone” appears in the water every summer, formed in large part by nitrogen fertilizer that runs downriver from Midwestern farms. This pollution harms marine life in the Gulf, which is the foundation of the region’s economically and culturally important fishing industries.

According to our analysis, nitrogen losses from farms upstream have caused up to $2.4 billion in damages to fisheries and marine habitat every year since 1980.

Fortunately, this damage can be reduced through science-based farming practices that build up soils and keep nitrogen on farm fields. Policymakers should invest in technical and financial assistance to help farmers adopt such practices, to simultaneously improve the health of soil and local waterways; grow the food, fuel, and fiber that power our nation’s economy; and protect farming and fishing industries, jobs, and communities for generations to come.


Boehm, Rebecca. 2020. Reviving the Dead Zone: Solutions to Benefit Both Gulf Coast Fishers and Midwest Farmers, Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists.