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Two Steps Forward, One Back For Gulf Seafood

The Gulf seafood story, which began with the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform and subsequent spill of BP’s oil, is ending 2010 on a decidedly murky note.

“America’s Night Out For Gulf Seafood” this coming Friday (Dec. 1) will see more than 150 chefs and top restaurants around the country putting Gulf fish, oysters, shrimp and crabs up as specials.

Yet just when it appeared as though fish closures in the Gulf were ready to be extinguished, the NOAA Fisheries Service closed an additional 4,213 square miles to royal red shrimp fishing.

Closing more federal waters to shrimpers’ cuts against the federal government’s story line that everything is getting better in the Gulf.   On Nov. 15, NOAA had cut back the area closed to commercial and recreation fishing to a tight 1,000 square mile box immediately around the Deepwater Horizon wellhead.  

Just five days later, fishermen collected tar balls in their nets while trawling for royal red shrimp, prompting NOAA to close 4,213 square miles to royal red shrimp fishing only that it had opened just ten days earlier.

If that were not bad enough, the local experts just do not seem to want to go along with what some refer to as the “federal response.”

“They’re doing the sniff and taste test,” Ed Cake, president of Gulf Environmental Associates, told the International Conference on Shellfish Restoration.  “We as human beings no longer have the noses of bloodhounds.  I will not eat any seafood coming from the central Gulf at this point.”

Cake is not alone in being dubious about the federal government’s reliance on so-called “sniff” tests.  Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NOAA rely on sniffing and chemical tests to make sure Gulf seafood is safe to eat.

Gulf seafood samples tested to date have all been 100-fold or even 1000-fold below levels of concern, reports Bob Dickey, who heads up FDA’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory on Dauphin Island.

Cake says the chemicals involved are carcinogenic and there are no safe levels.

An estimated 172 million gallons of oil was spilled into the Gulf between April 20 and July 15, according to the federal government’s final calculation.  That is a reduction of its first estimate of 205.8 million gallons.

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