United States officials have announced a ban on fishing for at least ten days in waters off Louisiana spanning to parts of the Florida panhandle as the oil slick from a leak spreads across the Gulf of Mexico. Rough weather conditions are complicating crews’ efforts to contain the oil slick.
Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico could become unavailable for months due to the calamitous environmental effects of the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform last week off Louisiana.
”NOAA is restricting fishing for a minimum of ten days in federal waters most affected by the BP (NYSE: BP) oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida's Pensacola Bay. The closure is effective immediately,” said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The oil reached Florida’s coast last Thursday night and on Friday Governor Bob Riley said people and businesses can be compensated financially for their incurred losses by BP, the company responsible for the drilling platform accident.
Prices of shrimp, oyster and other types of seafood harvested in the Gulf may soon be shooting up. Oysters from Louisiana makes up about one-third of the US total oyster output, and the Gulf of Mexico is a prime spawning region for fish, shrimp and crabs. Commercial and recreational fishing industry represents 2.4 billion dollars annually for Louisiana.
“We have been getting our local oysters in containers from Mississippi and Louisiana suppliers,” said Joe Lewis, owner of East Brewton Seafood Market. “But we get our oysters in the shell from Appalachacola, but they are very expensive.”
“If things continue the way they are going, the prices will certainly go up,” he continued. “If the oil slick hits the shore, we’re ruined,” Lewis said. “If the problem isn’t contained and cleaned up, things are going to get tough. It looks rough right now.” And if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream, it could potentially drift around Florida and up the country’s eastern coast.
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 NOAA administrator, Doctor Jane Lubchenco, quoted in the statement. I heard the concerns of the Plaquemines Parish fishermen as well other fishermen and state fishery managers about potential economic impacts of a closure, said Lubchenko, who met with more than 100 fishermen over the weekend.
US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in the statement: We stand with America's fishermen, 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 protect to it.
According to NOAA, 3.2 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico took 24 million fishing trips in 2008 and commercial fishermen there harvested more than one billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008.
Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, backed NOAA's measure, saying the move is a necessary action to ensure the citizens of the United States and abroad that our seafood will maintain the highest level of quality [...] We support NOAA's precautionary closure of the affected area so that the American consumer has confidence that the seafood they eat is safe.
George Barasich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen's Association, meanwhile Sunday, filed an emergency request for a temporary restraining order against BP's contract for oil clean-up workers, which his lawyers said would allegedly preclude them from suing the oil giant.
BP is hiring fishermen to help clean up from the spill and deploy boom in the Gulf of Mexico. The legal documents BP is asking the volunteers to sign would seriously compromise any spill-related legal claims against the oil giant, said Barasich's attorney Stuart Smith. As many as 100 fishers are volunteering their vessels for the oil cleanup to take place in the coming weeks.