Area of Gulf of Mexico reopens to royal red shrimp fishing on Wednesday


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is reopening a 4,213-square-mile L-shaped area of the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to royal red shrimping on Wednesday after fish and shrimp sampling and testing in the area showed no further oil or dispersant contamination from the BP oil well disaster.

The area was closed in November only to fishing for the royal red shrimp, which are caught by trawling at 600 feet or deeper, after a shrimper reported finding tar balls in his nets.

Fishing for the royal red species is conducted by pulling trawl nets along the ocean floor. Tar balls founding the catch may have been entrained in the net as it was dragged along the sea floor, NOAA officials said at the time of the closure.

“Extensive testing of royal red shrimp and other fish from this area revealed they are safe to eat,” said Roy Crabtree, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service southeast region, in a news release. “Seafood safety and consumer confidence remain a priority for NOAA, and we will continue monitoring Gulf seafood for as long as necessary to ensure its integrity.”

The more common commercial Gulf shrimp species are brown, white and pink shrimp, which are caught in waters less than 300 feet deep. NOAA has not received reports of tar balls in fishing catches at shallower depths in this area, the news release said.

The area being reopened was initially closed to all commercial and recreational fishing last summer because of the uncontrolled release of oil and natural gas from the BP Macondo well, and was to all fishing on Nov. 15 after testing of several species from the area, including royal red shrimp, passed both sensory and chemical testing.

A 1,041 square mile area immediately around the Macondo wellhead remains closed to all commercial and recreational fishing.

NOAA ordered an expanding series of fishing area closures beginning on May 2, when it covered about 3 percent, or 6,817 square miles of the Gulf, and peaking at 37 percent, o0r 88,522 square miles, on June 2.

The well was capped on July 15.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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