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NOAA has issued an emergency rule to close portions of the Gulf of Mexico to fishing. (Credit: NOAA)
RESTON, Virginia -- NOAA is restricting fishing for a minimum of ten days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida's Pensacola Bay (map attached). The closure is effective immediately. Details can be found here: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/. Fishermen who wish to contact BP about a claim should call 800-440-0858.
"NOAA scientists are on the ground in the area of the oil spill taking water and seafood samples in an effort to ensure the safety of the seafood and fishing activities," said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, who met with more than 100 fishermen in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish on Friday night. "I heard the concerns of the Plaquemines Parish fishermen as well other fishermen and state fishery managers about potential economic impacts of a closure. Balancing economic and health concerns, this order closes just those areas that are affected by oil. There should be no health risk in seafood currently in the marketplace."
"We stand with America's fisherman, their families and businesses in impacted coastal communities during this very challenging time. Fishing is vital to our economy and our quality of life and we will work tirelessly to protect it," said Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. NOAA is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The federal and state governments have strong systems in place to test and monitor seafood safety and to prohibit harvesting from affected areas and keeping oiled products out of the marketplace. NOAA Fisheries is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the States to ensure seafood safety, by assessing whether seafood is tainted or contaminated to levels that pose a risk to human health.
"There are finfish, crabs, oysters and shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico near the area of the oil spill," said Roy Crabtree, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Administrator. "The Gulf is such an important biologic and economic area in terms of seafood production and recreational fishing."
According to NOAA, there are 3.2 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico region who took 24 million fishing trips in 2008. Commercial fishermen in the Gulf harvested more than 1 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008.
NOAA is working with the state governors to evaluate the need to declare a fisheries disaster in order to facilitate federal aid to fishermen in these areas. NOAA fisheries representatives in the region will be meeting with fishermen this week to assist them. The states of Louisiana and Mississippi have requested NOAA to declare a federal fisheries disaster. BP will be hiring fishermen to help clean up from the spill and deploy boom in the Gulf of Mexico. Interested fishermen should call 425-745-8017.
NOAA will continue to evaluate the need for fisheries closures based on the evolving nature of the spill and will re-open the fisheries as appropriate. NOAA will also re-evaluate the closure areas as new information that would change the dimension of these closed areas becomes available.
NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.