Some Gulf Waters Reopening to Commercial Fishing

Certain waters in the Gulf of Mexico are being reopened to commercial fishing after the cleanup and control of the oil spill resulting from the April explosion on British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig.

As of August 27, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had reopened more than 4,200 square miles of Gulf waters off the coast of western Louisiana to commercial and recreational fishing. Between July 26 and July 29, NOAA sampled the area for both shrimp and finfish, including mackerel and snapper.

The fish were initially screened using sensory analyses, a smell test that uses trained sensory testers and that is, according to NOAA, one of the best ways to determine the safety and acceptability of seafood. These analyses found no detectable odors or flavors of oil or dispersants. Follow-up chemical analyses found that any contamination was “well below the level of concern.”

“The human nose is so sensitive that it can detect tainting of fish at levels far, far below anything that would have a negative impact,” said Karl E. Havens, PhD, professor and chair of fisheries and aquatic sciences at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “Any fish that is being sold now, it’s safe to eat and is not contaminated with hydrocarbons.”

To reassure consumers who have indicated in surveys that they still feel wary about buying Gulf seafood, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has rolled out a “Florida Gulf Safe” logo. The stickered logos are available to restaurants, retailers, and seafood wholesalers; more than 116,000 have been distributed to date. “This is not a certification program,” said Martin May, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Agriculture. “It means that, from everything we know, it is safe.”

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