From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published July 30, 2010 10:10 AM

Good News for Gulf Fishermen

In response to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government closed off vast areas of the ocean to fishing operations. Much of the area was closed off as a precaution, even if it was minimally touched by the spreading oil, to avoid a public health disaster from contaminated seafood. The good news is that about one-third of that closed off area has just been reopened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the 26,388 square miles to be reopened, no oil has been observed for the past thirty days.

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According to agreed-upon protocol, this decision was made after consulting with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Gulf states to determine public health concerns. The conclusion was that the water is sufficiently clean and the fish are safe to eat.

The US Coast Guard has been doing fly-overs for the past thirty days and have seen no traces of oil in the reopened area. Scientific models also show the trajectory of the existing oil contamination moving away from the area. Plus, NOAA has caught fish from the area and tested them. The results showed no sign of contamination.

"Today's decision is good news for Gulf fishermen and American consumers," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. "Following the best science for this re-opening provides important assurance to the American people that the seafood they buy is safe and protects the Gulf seafood brand and the many people who depend on it for their livelihoods."

The reopened area is located southeast of the former Deepwater Horizon rig. It stretches north to south along the west Florida shelf in the Gulf. The closest it comes to the former rig location is 190 miles.

NOAA had originally banned fishing in as much as 37 percent of the entire Gulf of Mexico. With the recent reopening, there still remains 57,539 square miles of the Gulf still closed off. NOAA will continue to test the fish and have set up dockside tests for commercial catches from the reopened area to ensure quality. They will also continue to monitor the closed-off areas, and open them back up to fishermen as soon as they are deemed safe.

According to the EPA, the Gulf's commercial fish and shellfish harvest is roughly 1.3 billion pounds and was worth approximately $661 million in 2008. The shrimp harvest alone is 188.8 million pounds, worth about $367 million per year. These totals have been significantly reduced due to the BP Deepwater Horizon rig disaster. The announcement is sure to be most welcome to the Gulf fishing industry as it struggles to get back onto its feet.

For more information: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/

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