As of 5 p.m. local time yesterday, the area of the Gulf of Mexico closed to fishing because of the BP oil spill grew by 7 percent to 86,985 square miles. The area closed is now as large as the entire State of Minnesota.
The closed area represents 36 percent of the U.S. economic zone in the Gulf. Four of the five Gulf states have closed state waters as well. The closures are imposed to ensure that seafood that is harvested is safe to eat.
The NOAA Fisheries Services, which controls the closed area, has adjusted the boundaries 17 times since the restrictions began on May 2. The original closed area included 6,817 square miles.
While most state waters in Florida are open, state agencies acting under an Executive Order closed a portion of coastal state waters off Escambia County to harvest of saltwater fish, crabs, and shrimp. They say the closure is a precautionary measure.
Florida’s closure includes state waters from the beaches out 9 nautical miles into the Gulf from the Alabama line east to the Pensacola Beach water tower. Interior bays and estuaries remain open to fishing. This area covers approximately 23 miles of Florida’s coastline in Escambia County, where oil from the BP spill is visible.
Florida is allowing recreational catch and release fishing as long as no saltwater fish are harvested or possessed in the closed area. Oyster, clams, and mussels are not included in the closure because they are not expected to be affected by the oil in this area. Shellfish in Florida are monitored by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Alabama has closed state waters exiting Mobile Bay. This includes all the inside waters west of the Dauphin Island Bridge including Mississippi Sound, Heron Bay, Portersville Bay, and Grand Bay.
Alabama’s closures are in addition to previous closures of all waters in the Gulf of Mexico including Pelican Bay and the waters of Mobile Bay east of the Mobile Ship Channel and south of a line from Mobile Ship Channel Marker Number 22 to Little Point Clear on the north side of Fort Morgan Peninsula.
Mississippi has also closed certain territorial waters to both commercial and recreational fishermen for finfish, crab, shrimp, and oysters. The area involved lies on both south and east of the southern shoreline of Horn Island and includes the area south of the CSX Railroad and east of the Bayou Cassotte ship canal to the Alabama-Mississippi border.
Louisiana state waters from Lake Barre to East Bay and two areas of Chandeleur Sound are closed to fin fishing. Oyster areas east of the Mississippi are mostly open and the areas to the west are closed close-in and then open again farther west.
Texas has not yet had to close any Lone Star State waters due to the BP oil spill.
Kills from the spreading oil spill also continue. The Unified Area Command Monday reported that NOAA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife have reported 957dead birds, 387 dead sea turtles, and 47 dead mammals including dolphins. Not all the deaths have been attributed to exposure to the oil.