At its height, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) closure of Gulf of Mexico waters to fishing covered an area larger than the State of Minnesota.
Now at just over 1,000 square miles, the closed area is just big enough to no hold no more than two or three big American cities.
The closed area was scaled back by another 8,403 square miles of the Gulf with the re-opening to commercial and recreational fishing.
The remaining closed area, a tight box around the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, is the smallest it has been since NOAA began closing areas of the Gulf to fishing after the April 20 BP oil spill.
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said tests to detect dispersants in seafood were used in the re-opened area after all samples passed. “This is yet another indication that our gulf seafood is safe for consumption,” she said.
The newly reduced closed area became effective at 6 p.m. eastern time, Nov. 15.
The 1,041 square mile area remains closed to all commercial and recreational fishing, including catch and release fishing, Boats may transit the closed area.
NOAA says its next priority is open the remaining closed area immediately surrounding the Deepwater Horizon/BP wellhead.
There have been no confirmed reports of oil or oil sheen in the re-opened area since Aug. 5. NOAA’s trajectory models show the area is at low risk of future oil exposure.
In reaching the decision to re-open the area, NOAA tested both finfish and shrimp. Sensory testing found no detectable oil or dispersant odors or a flavor in the samples and all chemical analysis was below levels of concern for oil. Commercially important fish like swordfish, tuna, and mahi mahi were used in the samples.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to work with NOAA in sampling seafood from both inside and outside the closure area and in dockside and market-based sampling programs, NOAA continues to “strongly advise fishermen not to fish in areas where oil or oil sheens (very thin layers of floating oil) are present, even if those areas are not currently closed to fishing.”
Map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).