Sample test results of oysters and water will be on the agenda today when the Louisiana Oyster Task Force meets in New Orleans. It comes a day after the federal government reportedly issued a fisheries disaster declaration for three Gulf states, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
Louisiana officials and the industry are trying to wrap their heads around specific findings that can now be made about oyster mortalities caused by the BP oil spill.
The meeting comes as the State of Louisiana was forced over the weekend to close more of its productive state waters to more oyster harvesting because oil is now coming ashore on some of its beaches and coastal wetlands.
Federal waters closed to fishing–but no longer to transit–have remained unchanged since May 21. All commercial and recreational fishing is prohibited in the closed area.
Confirmed reports Sunday of oil further west along the Louisiana coast forced the closure of more oyster harvest areas.
Louisiana closed additional oyster harvesting bed areas west of the Mississippi River, including areas 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21, 22 and 23 as a precautionary response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf. These closures took effect May 23 (see map, above).
Areas 9, 10 and 11 are in Plaquemines Parish; Area 12 is in Plaquemines and Jefferson parishes. Areas 14 and 15 are in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes; areas 17, 19, 21, 22 and 23 are in Terrebonne Parish.
Louisiana officials are working with local and federal agencies to monitor the oil plume that continues to grow off of the Louisiana coastline for its potential impacts on oyster harvesting areas. Meanwhile, employees with the state Office of Public Health Molluscan Shellfish Program have continued regular testing of 8 million acres of coastal waters along the Louisiana shoreline.
In addition, state scientists and engineers are conducting enhanced testing of oyster meat taken from the closed beds to monitor the presence of oil, called hydrocarbon testing. Additional testing is also being conducted in unaffected oyster beds.
Those tests will create a baseline, which will be used to ensure the safety of oysters once the incident clears in order to reopen beds, officials say. They say oysters being harvested in open areas are considered safe.
Areas 8, 13 and 28 remain closed.
Closures will remain in effect until officials have determined that environmental conditions are within the requirements specified by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.
The public is encouraged to call a toll-free hotline, 1-800-256-2775, to report the presence of oil or oil sheen.
Meanwhile, the federal closure area now represents just fewer than 20 percent of the U.S. economic zone in the Gulf. The closed area totals 48,005 square miles. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries department continues to point out that all other federal waters in the Gulf remain open to both commercial and recreational fishing.
Since the unexplained explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform on April 20, which killed 11 workers, concern has grown about the future of the Gulf seafood industry. In 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, more than 1.27 million pounds of finfish and shellfish were harvested in the Gulf.
With BP’s attempts to shut the spill off all ending in failure to date, there is fear about the future of Gulf seafood including its large catches of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and shrimp.
The popular brown shrimp season typically begins in June and runs through October.
Recreational fishing season for red snapper opens in Mississippi territorial waters on June 1, 2010, at 12:01 a.m. and closes July 24, 2010, at 12:01 a.m.
This coincides with the opening and closing of red snapper season in open federal waters. Current Mississippi state regulations for red snapper are limited to fish16 inches and larger, and to two-fish.
Florida’s Apalachicola Bay was opened to oyster harvesting last Friday, 11 days early to help stem demand for oysters not available in other Gulf waters.
Image: Courtesy Emergency.Louisiana.Gov© Food Safety News