NOAA reopens more oil spill areas

06 Sep 2010
Reopened fishing area (in hashmarks) on 3 September 2010. (Image: NOAA)

Reopened fishing area (in hashmarks) on 3 September 2010. (Image: NOAA)

NOAA has reopened 3,114 square miles of Gulf waters offshore of the western Florida panhandle to commercial and recreational fishing. The reopening followed a consultation with FDA and under a re-opening protocol agreed to by NOAA, the FDA, and the Gulf states.

Trajectory models show the area is at a low risk for future exposure to oil, and fish caught in the area and tested by NOAA experts have shown no signs of contamination.

“We are pleased to continue moving forward with reopening portions of Gulf federal waters to recreational and commercial fishing,” said Jane Lubchenco, PhD, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “I’d like to thank everyone for their patience throughout this process, as we work to ensure seafood safety remains our primary objective.”

At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 55 miles northeast of the Deepwater/BP wellhead. The total area is about one percent of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

 Between 20 August and 24 August, NOAA sampled the area for finfish such as tuna, swordfish, and mahi mahi. Sensory analyses of 104 samples and chemical analyses of 101 specimens that were composited into nine samples 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 well below the levels of concern.

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

The closed area now covers 39,885 square miles, or about 17% of the federal waters in the Gulf, which was 37% at its height on 2 June. The boundary of the fishery closure has changed 27 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.

On 22 July, NOAA reopened 26,388 square miles of Gulf waters off of the Florida peninsula; 5,144 square miles off the Florida panhandle on 10 August; 4,281 square miles off western Louisiana on 27 August; and 5,130 square miles off the western Florida panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana on 2 September.

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