NOAA Opens More Waters for Fishing

From the NOAA site:

A National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) official announced at a Panama City Beach press conference today the reopening of 5,144 square miles in the Gulf to finfish fishing.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco visited Capt. Anderson’s Marina to inform commercial and recreational fishermen that the federal waters from Pensacola to Cape San Blas and south into the open Gulf are open, as no oil has been observed in those waters since July 3.

Fish caught in the area, she said, have shown no signs of contamination but would be further tested.

“Consumer safety is NOAA’s primary concern, which is why we developed rigorous safety standards in conjunction with the FDA and the Gulf states to ensure that seafood is safe in the reopened area,” Lubchenco said. “We are confident that Gulf fish from this area is safe to eat and pleased that recreational and commercial fisherman can fish these waters again.”

Since July 3, NOAA data have shown no oil in the area, and U.S. Coast Guard observers flying over the area in the last 30 days have also not observed any oil. Trajectory models show the area is at a low risk for future exposure to oil and, most importantly, fish caught in the area and tested by NOAA experts have shown no signs of contamination. At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 115 miles northeast of the Deepwater/BP wellhead.

From June 27 through July 20, NOAA sampled 153 finfish, including grouper, snapper, tuna and mahi mahi, from the area. Sensory and chemical testing, with sensory testing finding no detectable oil or dispersant odors or flavors and results of chemical analysis well below the levels of concern.

“We know how important it is to the culture and economy of this region to get back out on the water and be able to once again harvest the seafood that the Gulf is famous for,” said Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of food and drugs. “But our top priority in the wake of this disaster must be the safety of the fish that makes it to market. We are confident that the proper processes have been followed, and that consumers can feel good once again serving their families seafood from these waters.”

NOAA will continue to take samples for testing from the newly re-opened area, and the agency has also implemented dockside sampling to test fish caught throughout the Gulf by commercial fishermen.

U.S. Congressman Allen Boyd said in a news release Tuesday that he has asked Lubchenco to extend red snapper season to allow local fishermen and communities the opportunity to make up for economic losses caused by the BP oil spill.  In the letter, Boyd reiterated the economic contributions the red snapper season brings to the Panhandle:

“An extended red snapper season will allow our commercial fisherman the opportunity to get back on the water, and it will help bring recreational fishermen and tourists back to our coastal communities. These visitors charter fishing boats for entertainment, stay at our hotels and eat in our restaurants – activities that collectively help support our local economies.  The hardworking people throughout the Panhandle deserve to have every opportunity available to help them return to their way of life as quickly as possible.”

The season on red snapper could be reopened if NOAA determines that the quotas for snapper caught have not been met before the season ended on July 24. A decision on whether to extend the snapper season will be made during the Gulf Council’s Aug. 16-20 meeting in Pensacola. Click here to read a press release about the possible reopening of snapper season. Federal fishing waters off Bay County have been closed since June 21.

The closed area now covers 52,395 miles, or 22 percent of the federal waters in the Gulf, down from 37 percent at its height. On July 22, NOAA reopened 26,388 square miles of Gulf waters off of the Florida Peninsula.

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