Another Gulf oil spill area reopens

16 Nov 2010
Almost there: 99.6% of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico are now open.

Almost there: 99.6% of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico are now open.

NOAA has reopened to commercial and recreational fishing 8,403 square miles of Gulf waters which extend from the Louisiana state water line to due south of the Alabama/Florida state line. This is the 11th reopening in federal waters since 22 July.

This latest reopening was announced after consultation with the US Food and Drug Administration and under a reopening protocol agreed to by NOAA, the FDA, and the Gulf states.

The total area reopened was about 3.5% of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and 89% of the current closed area, as last modified on 22 October. No oil or sheen has been documented in the area since 25 July.

At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 10 miles from the wellhead.

NOAA sampled this area between 31 August and 1 November for finfish and shrimp, including tuna, swordfish, escolar, and royal red shrimp.

Sensory analyses of 286 finfish samples and 55 shrimp samples and chemical analyses of 207 finfish samples in 33 composites and 50 shrimp samples in nine composites followed the methodology and procedures in the reopening protocol, with sensory analysis finding no detectable oil or dispersant odours or flavours, and results of chemical analysis for oil-related compounds and dispersants well below the levels of concern.  

“This is the first reopening where we have added a supplemental test to detect dispersants in seafood, and all the samples passed,” said Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “This is yet another indication that our Gulf seafood is safe for consumption.”

As announced on 29 October, NOAA and FDA have developed and implemented a chemical test to detect the presence of dispersants in fish, oysters, crabs and shrimp. The level of concern for dispersants is 100 parts per million for finfish and 500 parts per million for shrimp.

The test can reliably detect Dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS) at levels of 2,000 times below the lowest level of concern.             

NOAA continues to work closely with the FDA and the Gulf states to ensure seafood safety. NOAA and FDA are working together on broad-scale seafood sampling that includes sampling seafood from inside and outside the closure area, as well as dockside and market-based sampling.

An area covering 1,041 square miles immediately surrounding the wellhead, remains closed to fishing.

The boundary of the fishery closure has changed 32 times after it was first instituted on 2 May, at which time it covered about 3% (6,817 square miles) of Gulf waters around the wellhead.

As oil continued to spill from the wellhead, the area grew in size, peaking at 37% (88,522 square miles) of Gulf waters on 2 June.

To date, NOAA has reopened more than 82,900 square miles of oil-impacted federal waters under this protocol and sampling regime.

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