NOAA reopens further 7,000 sq miles of Gulf

18 Oct 2010

NOAA has reopened 6,879 square miles of Gulf waters about 180-200 nautical miles south of the Florida panhandle, between the Florida-Alabama state line and Cape San Blas, to commercial and recreational fishing.

This is the ninth reopening in federal waters since 22 July. This 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.

“Each reopening is a reassuring sign that areas once impacted by oil can again support sustainable fishing activities,” said Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

“Tourists and consumers should know most Gulf waters are open for fishing and seafood from these waters is safe to eat.”

The total area reopened today is about 3% of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and 29% of the current closed area, as last modified on 5 October. No oil or sheen has been documented in the area since 13 July.

At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 110 miles southeast of the Deepwater Horizon BP wellhead.

NOAA sampled this area between 7 August through 18 September for finfish, including tuna, swordfish, and mahi mahi. Sensory analyses of 126 finfish samples and chemical analyses of 121 finfish samples in 31 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 well below the levels of concern.

NOAA will continue to take samples for testing from the newly reopened area. The agency will also continue dockside sampling to test fish caught throughout the Gulf by commercial fishermen.

The remaining closed area now covers 16,481 square miles, or about 7% of the federal waters in the Gulf. The boundary of the fishery closure has changed 30 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 67,000 square miles of oil-impacted federal waters under this protocol and sampling regime.

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