The Fish May Now Return
The Gulf of Mexico has been a problem for fishing and other marine life even since the BP oil spill earlier this year. Things are looking up finally. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has just reopened 5,144 square miles of Gulf waters to commercial and recreational finfish fishing. Since July 3, NOAA data have shown no oil in the newly reopened area, and United States Coast Guard observers flying over the area in the last 30 days have also not observed any visible oil. Even more importantly, fish caught in the area and tested by NOAA experts have shown no signs of contamination.
The area to be reopened lies to the northeast of the spill site in the area closest to Florida. At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 115 miles northeast of the Deepwater/BP wellhead.
From June 27 through July 20, NOAA sampled 153 finfish, including grouper, snapper, tuna and mahi mahi, from the area. Sensory and chemical testing of these finfish followed the methodology and procedures in the re-opening protocol, with sensory analysis finding no detectable oil or dispersant odors or flavors, and results of chemical analysis well below any levels of concern.
NOAA will continue to take samples for testing from the newly re-opened area, and the agency has also implemented dockside sampling to test fish caught throughout the Gulf by commercial fishermen.
NOAA continues to work closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Gulf states to ensure seafood safety. NOAA and FDA are working together on broad scale seafood sampling that includes sampling seafood from inside and outside the closure area, as well as dockside and market based sampling.
The remaining closed area still covers 52,395 square miles, or 22 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf. This is down from about 88,000 square miles that had been closed at the height of the no fishing area alert. Earlier in July, NOAA reopened 26,388 square miles of Gulf waters off of the Florida Peninsula.
Recreational fishing is different from commercial fishing. In mid-July, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission announced significant reopenings for recreational fishing that were previously closed due to the oil spill. With this action, approximately 86 percent of recreational fishing in Louisiana was allowed to return to active service.
The openings allow recreational anglers, including recreational shrimping, crabbing and fishing, to resume. This opening includes licensed charter boat guides and bait fishermen or dealers who harvest for and sell to recreational fishermen exclusively.
So there are signs of a return to normalcy in the Gulf region. The no fishing area had steadily expanded since May 2010 and only started to slow and contract in mid-July. So several more months may yet pass until normalcy is achieved once more.
For further information: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100810_fishreopening.html