“Sometimes life’s not fair,” said Vice President Joe Biden, as he addressed a small crowd in New Orleans, Louisiana yesterday. “Y’all have been hit with Katrina, Gustav and now the BP oil spill. You’ve been through more than any community has a right to be asked to go through. You’ve been on boats, some of you, since you were kids.”

The visit comes over two months after the oil began spewing into the Gulf and two days after the federal government again expanded the area closed to fishing–again limiting an over $2 billion industry.

The region faces another challenge as Hurricane Alex, predicted to hit the Texas/Mexico border, is creating swells and complicating oil spill response efforts. 

deepwater-horizon-oil1-featured.jpgThe closed area now represents 80,228 square miles, approximately 33.2 percent of Gulf of Mexico federal waters, according to federal officials. The last closed area modification was June 23, when 78,597 square miles were closed to fishing, or roughly 32.5 percent of federal waters of the Gulf.

Biden struck an emotional tone yesterday as he outlined the importance of ensuring the safety of seafood coming out of the Gulf, praising the Gulf community for enduring the struggle through a slew of devastating disasters. The Vice President admitted there had been some confusion between fisherman, state public health agencies, and the federal response. “We want one single standard so y’all don’t have to worry about where you fish, if you can fish, and when the waters are open, whether the waters are federal waters or state waters.”

“Bottom line is, we want to get fishermen back out on the water as soon as possible after the oil has been removed,” said Biden, as he outlined a renewed effort between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Biden visited New Orleans and Pensacola, Florida as well as the Unified Area Command to receive a briefing on response efforts and tour the facility. He was joined by National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Federal On-Scene Coordinator Rear Admiral James Watson, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao.

The Vice President also made a stop at Pomes Seafood, an eastern New Orleans seafood wholesaler, where he met with Gulf Coast residents impacted by the spill.

Federal officials announced last week that NOAA ship Delaware II has been deployed to collect tunas, swordfish, and sharks, to gather data about “the conditions highly migratory species are experiencing in waters around the Gulf of Mexico spill site.”

According to a NOAA statement, “During the two-week mission, the research vessel will use longline fishing gear to capture the fish, and assess their environment using sophisticated water chemistry monitoring instruments. Researchers will only retain the fish needed to get enough samples for the study. Every effort is made to release any animals caught but not needed for sampling. Some may also be fitted with satellite tags to help determine how much time these highly migratory animals spend in oiled and unoiled waters.”

Two other NOAA ships, Pisces, one of NOAA’s newest research vessels, and the ship Oregon II, are in the midst of surveys of reef fish, bottom-dwelling fish, and shrimp in the eastern and western Gulf of Mexico to sample for seafood and water quality and species abundance as part of the oil spill response.

“These vessels are providing a variety of seafood and water samples from locations throughout the Gulf–nearshore and offshore, shallow water and deep, oiled and unoiled,” said Steven Murawski, who is leading NOAA’s science response to the spill, in a statement.  “This is baseline information we need to measure any effects on seafood attributable to the spilled oil and to make sure our fishery closures are effective and in place for as long as they need to be, but no longer.”

According to NOAA, the agency has also deployed charter ship Beau Rivage in the closed fishing zone in the eastern Gulf, a vessel that uses bottom longline gear to catch fish for seafood safety samples, and several other vessels, which are collecting seafood samples for analysis.

Photo: Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico captured during an overflight on May 26. Credit: NOAA.