GULF OF MEXICO — Yesterday, NOAA reopened to commercial and recreational fishing 8,403 square miles of Gulf of Mexico 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 July 22, and was announced after consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and under a reopening protocol agreed to by NOAA, the FDA and the Gulf states.
The total area reopened is about 3.5 percent of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and 89 percent of the current closed area, as last modified Oct. 22. No oil or sheen has been documented in the area since July 25. At its closest point, the area to be reopened is about 10 miles from the wellhead.
NOAA sampled this area between Aug. 31 and Nov. 1 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 odors or flavors, 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, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. The boundary of the fishery closure has changed 32 times after it was first instituted May 2, at which time it covered about 3 percent (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 percent (88,522 square miles) of Gulf waters on June 2. To date, NOAA has reopened more than 82,900 square miles of oil-impacted federal waters under this protocol and sampling regime.