BP’s limited success at squirting some oil to a ship on the surface did not prevent the expansion of the area of the Gulf closed to both commercial and recreational fishing that went into effect at 6 p.m. Monday.
The closed area now includes 10 percent of the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. That’s more than double its original size. The only good news was that now the federal government is allowing transit of fishing boats through the closed area.
For its part, Louisiana closed some state coastal waters for the first time since the April 20 explosion that sent an oil drilling platform to the bottom of the Gulf and killed 11 men who worked there. Louisiana took the action even after an oily substance was found on the May 14 catch of a fishing vessel because it was determined that incident was not related to the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is investigating how a petroleum product came into contact with that particular catch. In the meantime, certain inland waters were re-opened to commercial and recreational fishermen.
The areas are open to both recreational and commercial fishing except in those areas closed by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) to oyster harvesting.
“Our department remains on high-alert as we make daily assessments of state water ways,” said Louisiana’s Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham. “I want people to be out there fishing, this is the Sportsman’s Paradise, but at the same time the safety of our seafood must be a top priority.”
He said the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries continues to work closely with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to conduct coast-wide sampling of fish, crabs, and shrimp, to ensure all seafood harvested from the Gulf is a safe, quality product. To date, all test results of seafood sampled from Louisiana have been negative for hydrocarbons.
Once reports of oil are received, Louisiana initiates field surveys and immediate seafood testing in the suspected areas. Closures are subsequently made with the intent to be as safe as possible, while not closing any fishing areas unnecessarily. As test results come back clearing the area, affected waters are then reopened.
Still, Gulf seafood prices are now definitely up as purchasers bid for product that remained in the pipeline from before April 20 or that has been harvested since from the remaining safe areas.
In releasing the closed area map that went into effect last night, the NOAA Fisheries Service reminded fishermen that modeling and mapping are not exact sciences. They urged fishermen not to fish in any area where oil or oil sheens–meaning very thin layers of floating oil–are present, even if those areas are not officially closed to fishing.
Under ordinary rules, Monday was something of a deadline for fish closures, but NOAA last week adopted emergency rules that establish a protocol to alter the closed area to better reflect the location of the BP oil spill. Revised closed areas now go into effect at 6 p.m. daily.
To give fishermen, including charter operations for recreational trips, time to comply, NOAA is making announcements at noon each day over its Weather Radio, Southeast Fishery Bulletin, and Website. Any changes then go into effect at 5 p.m. Central and 6 p.m. Eastern daylight time. On days when there are no changes, that is announced as well.
The federal government’s response, which started out with just a couple of Coast Guard cutters for the days after the explosion, has now grown to a mammoth effort. NOAA now reports:
-More than 19,000 personnel have been deployed to protect shoreline and wildlife.
-More than 650 vessels are responding on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts–in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.
-More than 1.25 million feet of containment boom and 440,000 feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill–and approximately 285,000 feet of containment boom and 900,000 feet of sorbent boom are available.
-Approximately 6.3 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
-Approximately 600,000 gallons of dispersant have been deployed. More than 280,000 gallons are available.
-17 staging areas are in place and ready to protect sensitive shorelines, including: Dauphin Island, AL., Orange Beach, AL, Theodore, AL., Panama City, FL., Pensacola, FL., Port St. Joe, FL., St. Marks, FL., Amelia, LA, Cocodrie, LA, Grand Isle, LA, Shell Beach, LA, Slidell, LA, St. Mary, LA; Venice, LA, Biloxi, MS., Pascagoula, MS., and Pass Christian, MS.
As for the future of Gulf seafood, NOAA’s Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP) is conducting a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).
From past experience, NOAA is concerned about oil impacts to fish, shellfish, marine mammals, turtles, birds, and other sensitive resources, as well as their habitats, including wetlands, mudflats, beaches, bottom sediments and the water column. Any lost uses of these resources, for example, fishery and beach closures, will also be evaluated. The focus currently is to assemble existing data on resources and their habitats and collect baseline (pre-spill impact) data. Data on oiled resources and habitats are also being collected.
Gulf seafood industry leaders, including those in Louisiana, are now working overtime to get the word out that the harvest is safe to eat. In at least one case, they’ve even gotten BP to foot the bill.
BP PLC has provided a $2 million grant to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board to promote the quality and safety of Gulf Seafood from Louisiana. Harlon Pearce, a seafood dealer who chairs the state-created board, says more money will be needed to communicate with seafood consumers nationally.
The Louisiana Seafood Processors Board plans to employ a New York City public relations agency to get its message out. It also plans to use social media and provide talking points for waiters and waitresses in speaking with customers about Louisiana seafood.
Fear by customers outside the Gulf coast is a big concern for the local seafood industry. Its value to the region has been estimated at $6.5 billion a year, accounting for 40 percent of the U.S. seafood industry.
Louisiana officials continue to say they’ve closed prime oyster grounds and fishing areas not impacted by the oil out of “an abundance of caution.” The industry has supported those closures, but it’s meant that only about 40 percent of crabs and oysters that would normally be available are available. Finfish availability has been cut to 60-to-70 percent.© Food Safety News