Gulf watermen, be they out for shell or fin fish, did not get the news they wanted over the weekend as the colossal BP could not fill the hole spilling oil off the Louisiana coast. And while BP could not “get it done,” as they say in the South, golf ball-sized tar balls were washing up on Alabama’s Dauphin Island, just 3 miles from the mouth of Mobile Bay.
So it was little consolation that the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries closed all state waters west of the Mississippi to recreational and commercial fishing, including shrimping, effective at noon Monday.
Trouble for some is that getting to productive Louisiana waters was made more difficult Friday when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expanded the boundaries of federal waters that are closed to any fishing until May 17.
NOAA says the area closed to fishing totals less than 4.5 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. That may be true, but it covers most of the waters fishermen use to transit from one area of the Gulf to another. It includes an area from Southwest Pass of Louisiana to the eastern edge of Pensacola Bay.
That leaves boats using the inter-coastal waterways like another lane on the freeway.
Fishing in any area where oil or oil sheens are present is not advised, according to NOAA. Fish and shellfish taken from oily areas may be contaminated with hydrocarbons above tolerance levels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers such seafood to be adulterated.
NOAA’s Southeast Fishery Bulletin Monday said: “The vast majority of Gulf waters have not been affected by the oil spill and continue to support productive fisheries and tourism activities.”
In addition to the multi-billion dollar commercial seafood industry, the Gulf coast boasts 3.2 million recreational fishermen who NOAA says took 2.8 million fishing trips in 2008.
Government and industry representatives remain confident that Gulf seafood is safe to eat. Most was taken before the oil spill 21 days ago, and areas where more recent harvesting have occurred have been judged safe.
NOAA is collecting and testing seafood samples in and around the BP spill area.
Scientists are collecting oysters and sediment from nearly 60 Gulf Coast shoreline sites, stretching from the Texas/Louisiana border to southwestern Florida.
The researchers, including those from Louisiana State University and Mote Marine Laboratory, will be testing the samples for 120 chemical and microbial contaminants–including 60 oil-related compounds–to determine their baseline contamination.
NOAA says once oil reaches the shoreline, new samples will be collected and tested. By comparing these two sets of data, scientists can determine any pre-existing level and type of contamination, and identify any change in contamination that might be linked to the spill.
Researchers also will look at the toxic effects that the oil may have on sediment-dwelling creatures, which play an important role in the food chain.
The chemical structure of oil-related compounds–known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)–make it easier for scientists to differentiate between contamination related to the BP spill versus other sources, such as factory emissions or runoff. PAHs come with a distinctive chemical “fingerprint” that distinguishes them from other contaminants. NOAA scientists and partners will test for the presence of PAHs in water samples taken at the selected Gulf shoreline sites.