On the tail of new estimates that oil is gushing in the Gulf of Mexico at a much faster rate than previously thought, the federal government expanded the area closed to fishing to encompass 80,806 square miles, approximately 33.4 percent of the Gulf’s federal waters.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which made the announcement yesterday afternoon, to be effective at 6 p.m. EST, the closure is precautionary to ensure seafood harvested from the Gulf remains safe for consumers.

closuremap june.jpgThe announcement again attempted to reassure the public that the federal and state government response efforts were effectively monitoring seafood safety to prevent contaminated products from entering the food supply.

“NOAA continues to work closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] and the states to ensure seafood safety, by closing fishing areas where tainted seafood could potentially be caught, and assessing whether seafood is tainted or contaminated to levels that pose a risk to human health,” the agencies said yesterday in a statement. “NOAA and FDA are working to implement a broad-scaled seafood sampling plan. The plan includes sampling seafood from inside and outside the closure area, as well as dockside- and market-based sampling.”

According to NOAA’s release, approximately 5.7 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf region took 25 million fishing trips in 2008. Commercial fishermen harvested more than one billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2008, which generates well over $2 billion for the local economy.

NOAA said Wednesday it would continue to monitor fishery closures and would re-open closed areas as was deemed safe.
As President Obama reiterated earlier this week, seafood is not being harvested from contaminated waters, and remains safe to eat. As Food Safety News reported yesterday, the President has been working to reassure the public of Gulf seafood safety through both public remarks and by enjoying hefty portions of Gulf seafood this week.