Feds Continue to Re-Open Waters to Fishing in the Face of Widespread Concern


The federal government continues to re-open Gulf waters to commercial and recreational fishing despite widespread concern among independent scientists as well as locals who know the region and the waters best. This week, NOAA is opening another 8,500 square miles, including an area that runs fairly close to BP’s capped Macondo well.

Burned time and again by being wrong about things like flow rates and oil plumes, the agency these days hides behind a “protocol” – and very careful wording. For example, NOAA doesn’t go so far as to claim there’s no oil in these areas, only that “no oil or sheen has been documented in the area since July.”

And when backup tests find toxins in the seafood, we can’t help but get dizzy from all the spin:

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 constant citing of “protocols” reminds us of when BP and the feds dumped all the toxic cleanup waste into local landfills, proclaiming time and again that they were complying with environmental laws. True enough – but only because that waste was specifically exempted from the law by way of a “carve out” for the industry. One EPA official even admitted that the exemption was a political decision rather than a scientific one.

So when you start hearing that the states and the federal government have agreed to these protocols, you should immediately begin to worry. The defense of “we were following protocol” is a time-tested way to hedge your bets – and all that careful wording is a clear indication that they very likely know better.

Here’s a posting of the spin-filled NOAA report (and map) at the WKRG-TV website: http://www.wkrg.com/gulf_oil_spill/article/noaa-reopens-more-than-8000-square-miles-for-fishing/1202577/Nov-15-2010_1-45-pm/

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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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