From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published October 18, 2010 12:57 PM

The Dwindling No Fishing Zone

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today reopened to commercial and recreational fishing 6,879 square miles of Gulf waters about 180-200 nautical miles south of the Florida panhandle, between the Florida-Alabama state line and Cape San Blas, Florida. This is the ninth reopening in federal waters since July 22. This is all good news but it does not mean that there was no impact or the impact is over.


The total area reopened today is about 3 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and 29 percent of the current closed area, as last modified on October 5. No oil or sheen has been documented in the area since July 13. At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 110 miles southeast of the Deepwater Horizon BP wellhead.

NOAA sampled this area between August 7 through September 18 for finfish, including tuna, swordfish, and mahi mahi. NOAA will continue to take samples for testing from the newly reopened area. The agency will also continue dockside sampling to test fish caught throughout the Gulf by commercial fishermen.

The remaining closed area now covers 16,481 square miles, or about 7 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf. The boundary of the fishery closure has changed 30 times after it was first instituted on May 2, at which time it covered about 3 percent (6,817 square miles) of Gulf waters around the wellhead. As oil continued to spill from the wellhead, the area grew in size, peaking at 37 percent (88,522 square miles) of Gulf waters on June 2. To date, NOAA has reopened more than 67,000 square miles of oil-impacted federal waters under this protocol and sampling regime.

So the area allowed to be fished has expanded. However, juvenile Atlantic tuna at a major spawning site in the Gulf of Mexico probably fell by at least a fifth this year as a result of the BP oil spill, the European Space Agency (ESA)said on October 18.

The Atlantic tuna is a valuable commercial species that is already in an alarming decline, especially in the western part of the ocean, where stocks have plummeted by 82 percent over the last 30 years.

Western Atlantic tuna migrate to the Gulf from January to June each year to reproduce, spawning in two important sites in April and May.

In one of sites in the northeast, the number of bluefin fry fell by more than 20 percent as the suspected result of surface oil that was tracked by radar from the Earth-sensing satellite Envisat.

The fish were especially vulnerable as they spawn in surface waters, which means the floating oil could harm eggs, larvae and even adult tuna, the agency said.

Samples taken from the seafloor near BP's blown-out wellhead indicate miles of murky, oily residue sitting atop hard sediment with a report issued in mid-September. Moreover, inside that residue are dead shrimp, zooplankton, worms and other invertebrates. This may be the murky residue from the original oil release.

So it is getting better but long term effects are still to be evaluated.

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