Gulf seafood safety is getting a big assist from the army of federal wildlife, fisheries and national park agents who are on scene to protect thousands of species from the BP oil spill.
In a 62-minute media conference call Tuesday, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries, and the National Park Service said all the “robust” monitoring and testing they are doing would be shared with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
An estimated federal 600 sea life experts, many with PhDs and other advanced degrees, are in the Gulf working with the states and college marine centers.
Together they are trying to determine the impact of the oil still leaking a mile below the ocean surface and the chemical dispersant being used by the BP-led effort to control the spill.
Teri Rowles, director of NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response program, said the chemical dispersant used by BP was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has moderate to low toxicity, the kind that might give someone a skin rash.
The federal officials said that because a good baseline was established for shrimp, oysters, and crab for this area of the Gulf after Hurricane Katrina, scientists will be able to determine changes that occur as a result of the oil spill.
“Everybody is concerned about the integrity and safety of the food supply, said Ralph Morgenweck, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s science advisor and liaison officer to the Unified Area Command.
Risk to consumers from Gulf seafood exposed to oil remains from “moderate to low,” according to officials. Finfish and shellfish have the ability to clean themselves of low amounts of pollutants. In addition, both state and federal officials have been aggressive in closing threatened areas to seafood harvesting.
Wildlife is taking a hit, although not at anywhere near the numbers recorded at this point in some spills. Federal wildlife officials said 35 birds were exposed to oil, 23 died, eight were cleaned and released, and four remain in rehabilitation.
A total of 156 sea turtles and 12 dolphins have been found dead on Gulf state beaches, and another eight sea turtles are being treated.
But it’s the damage to hundreds of species in the Gulf that they cannot yet see or measure that has the federal officials worried. “What concerns us most is what we cannot see,” said Rowan Gould, acting director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Gould said the impacts to the sea life in the Gulf would be felt for “years, if not decades.” More birds could already be dying, but are not being recovered because they drop so far out to sea.
Pictured: NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Dr. Eric Schwaab, and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley assess how the sample is processed aboard the Research Vessel Caretta and chain of custody protocol used when handling specimens associated with the oil spill. Credit: NOAA.