Gulf of Mexico fishing ban extended

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Louisiana on Thursday extended commercial fishing bans in the upper Gulf of Mexico as the oil slick, which has reached Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands, gradually migrates eastward toward Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

In federal waters, the closure extends from southeastern Louisiana to about 20 miles south of Pensacola, Fla., an area representing only 4.5 percent of federal waters in the Gulf, according to NOAA. The closure runs through 17 May, unless conditions improve by then, said the agency.

In southeastern Louisiana waters stretching from the south pass of the Mississippi River to the eastern shore of Four Bayous Pass, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries declared shrimp harvesting off-limits, though vessels fishing offshore are allowed to pass through the closed area when returning to dock.

At a press conference in Biloxi, Miss., on Thursday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said his agency is working to assure the public that Gulf seafood is safe to eat, and the closures are intended to send a such a signal.

NOAA has ordered inspectors to sample fish and shellfish, both in the Gulf and in stores, and has directed a research vessel, operated by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, to collect samples from the water column and seafloor.

The Gulf Coast seafood industry — including the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, Gulf Oyster Industry Council, American Shrimp Processors Association — are also working to stave off misinformation regarding "tainted" seafood in the wake of late April's catastrophic oil spill at BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.


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