Gulf of Mexico fishing grounds open –

Gulf of Mexico fishing grounds open Published:  13 August, 2010

THE United States has opened up another large area of the Gulf of  Mexico fishing grounds, indicating that the threat to seafood stocks from the BP oil rig disaster is not as bad as first feared.

However, scepticism remains in certain quarters with claims that the dispersents used to clean up the oil are doing nearly  as much damage as the oil itself. And seafood restaurants in some parts of the US are refusing to serve Gulf caught fish, or do not advertise as such in case their cutsomers are put off.

The decision followed tests that found no detectable smell of oil or or dispersant and no chemical levels of concern, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement.So fishing is now allowed in another 5,000 square miles of water, mainly around the Florida Panhandle. The main fish from that area include tuna, snapper and grouper along with several  varities of shellfish.

This means that around  22 per cent of the Gulf’s federal waters, or 52,395 square miles, remains prohibited  to commercial fishing,  the NOAA said. The government had closed as much as 37 per cent of the Gulf to fishing after the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill in history.The NOAA said: “Florida’s seafood has tested cleanly, and the shoreline shouldn’t expect anything more serious than tar balls as the cleanup efforts continue.”

The head of the NOAA, Jane Lubchenco said  that samples collected from the reopened areas passed both chemical analysis and “sensory testing” by people trained to sniff out oil and dispersants.

The main problem now facing Gulf fishermen is convincing a sceptical American public that fish from the Gulf presents no health or environmental threat to them – and that may take a while yet.