From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published May 19, 2010 12:45 PM

The Great No Fishing Area

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has extended the boundaries of the closed fishing area in the Gulf of Mexico into the northern portion of the loop current as a precautionary measure to ensure that seafood from the Gulf will remain safe for consumers. Though the latest analysis shows that the bulk of the oil remains dozens of miles from the loop current, the new boundaries address the possibility that a tendril of light oil has entered or will enter the loop current. Part of the Gulf Stream, the Loop Current is a warm ocean current in the Gulf of Mexico that flows northward between Cuba and the Yucatan peninsula, moves north into the Gulf of Mexico, loops west and south before exiting to the east through the Florida Straits.

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The closed area now represents 45,728 square miles, which is slightly less than 19 percent of the Gulf of Mexico federal waters. This leaves more than 81 percent of Gulf federal waters (nearly 195,000 square miles) still available for fishing.

The newly closed area is more than 150 miles from the nearest port and primarily in deep water used by long line fisheries that target highly migratory species, such as tuna and swordfish. Coastal fisheries, such as grouper, snapper and shrimp, will not be affected by the latest expansion of the closed area.

 "As we expand the fishing closed area, we are doing what science demands of us and are acting with caution to ensure the safety of the seafood Americans will put on their dinner plates."said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Federal and state governments have systems in place to test and monitor seafood safety, prohibit harvesting from affected areas, and keep contaminated products out of the marketplace. NOAA is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the states to ensure seafood safety, by closing fishing areas where tainted seafood could potentially be caught, and assessing whether seafood is tainted or contaminated to levels that pose a risk to human health. NOAA and FDA are working to implement a broad scaled seafood sampling plan.

What will this mean in terms of fishing long term? It is hard to predict but the Gulf Of Mexico does supply significant fish resources for all of the US.

In 2008, commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico harvested 1.27 billion pounds of fin fish and shellfish that earned $659 million in total landings revenue.

Major shrimp species in the Gulf of Mexico include white shrimp, pink shrimp and brown shrimp. These species are mainly located in coastal areas. During the spring, the young, or post larvae, migrate from coastal areas.

Shrimp species will be impacted due to mortality of adults, as well as post larvae. In particular, brown shrimp post larvae will be migrating out of inshore waters from February to April, while white shrimp will begin migration in May and continue through November. The spill could have impacts not only on shrimp catches this year, but also next year if post larvae mortality is high.

The economic impact of the oil spill on shrimp could be extensive. The Gulf region landings of shrimp are the nation’s largest with 188.3 million pounds or 73 percent of the national total. Louisiana led all Gulf states in fishing production with 89 million pounds (@20% of the Gulf region total) with a dockside value of $130.6 million in 2008.

There are three species of crabs in the Gulf of Mexico area: blue crab, gulf stone crab, and stone crab. Blue crab occurs almost exclusively in state waters with peak spawning occurring in August-September. Eggs and larvae develop and settle in the estuaries until crabs reach harvestable size in April-May. The gulf stone crab is relatively abundant in the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama near shore areas in the spring period. The stone crab distribution is relatively limited.

Blue crabs are the most economically valuable crab species for the region. Louisiana harvests approximately 26 percent of the total blue crabs for the nation or 41.6 million pounds in 2008, with a dockside value of $32 million.

The Gulf region leads the nation in the production of oysters, some 67 percent of the nation’s total. Again Louisiana harvests the most (@65%)

There is a wide variety of other fish species in the Gulf of Mexico. In federal waters, the surface oriented species will be most impacted by the early stages of the oil spill. As the crude oil sinks, the bottom-oriented fish community may be impacted.

Mortality on larvae caused by the oil spill will result in declines in future fishing fro some time. This will negatively impact the rebuilding plans for all affected species, as well as short and potentially long term economic impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Depending on current loop current dynamics, Atlantic blue fin tuna may also be impacted by the oil spill. Atlantic blue fin tuna larvae may also be present in the region of the oil slick. Their presence however is quite dependent on and related to the loop current eddies and fronts.

For further information: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100518_closure.html or http://gulfseagrant.tamu.edu/oilspill/facts_fishstocks.htm

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