The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will re-open 26,388 square miles of Gulf waters to commercial and recreational fishing, it announced today.
The reopening of a third of the overall closed area was announced after consultation with FDA and under a re-opening protocol agreed to by NOAA, the FDA, and the Gulf states.
“Today’s decision is good news for Gulf fishermen and American consumers,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “Following the best science for this re-opening provides important assurance to the American people that the seafood they buy is safe and protects the Gulf seafood brand and the many people who depend on it for their livelihoods.”
Florida Representative, Kendrick Meek (D) responded to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announcement saying, "This announcement is great news to fishermen in Florida and their families. The BP oil spill has had a terrible impact on those who rely on Gulf waters for their livelihood. Through no fault of their own, these hardworking men and women remain most affected by BP's negligence. But this is only a first step in a long process of permanently stopping the flow of oil and continuing many months of clean-up. I will do everything in my power to fight for those Floridians who have been affected by the oil spill, and I will continue to work tirelessly to hold accountable those who helped cause it."
Since mid-June, NOAA data have shown no oil in the area, and United States Coast Guard observers flying over the area in the last 30 days have also not observed any oil. Additionally, 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.
Severe Weather Response Plan in Place for Oil Spill Response
The Unified Area Command center is tracking tropical weather near the Bahamas very closely and is constantly engaged in discussions with the National Hurricane Center, NOAA and FEMA to ensure the safety of more than 40,000 people currently assisting in the oil spill response and recovery efforts.
To prepare for the possibility of severe weather, Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, Federal On Scene Coordinator, has directed the movement of surplus response equipment to inland staging areas. These considerations are meant to protect people, boats, boom and other equipment while planning for the safe and speedy resumption of oil spill recovery after a storm.
“We are repositioning assets away from low-lying areas to higher ground staging areas to protect our ability to respond to the dynamic requirements of the incident. The protection of the equipment and crew is paramount to ensure maximum ability to respond to any new challenges a storm may pose to the enormous mission. We are committed to following through with our response. There will be no reductions in effort, urgency or commitment even as we sustain the long-term relief effort,” said Zukunft.
Activities that are underway for storm preparedness include evacuating specialized vessels from the path of any severe weather to prevent damage and ensure that oil recovery operations can resume as soon as possible after a storm. Additionally, boom is being removed from marsh areas where oil is not threatening the shore to prevent damage from the heavy equipment getting pushed into the delicate area by strong winds and high tides.
It is necessary to begin moving equipment to inland staging areas well in advance of a potential storm. The consolidation of boom and other equipment at our inland staging areas will in no way hinder the current response operations, but will serve to protect as much of this vital resource from the elements as possible through the risky hurricane season.
Wednesday, Zukunft sent a letter to local officials to provide an update on resource protection in case of a storm. The letter can be viewed here.