2,400 square miles reopened for fishing, shrimping

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by Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on July 30, 2010 at 6:27 PM

Updated Friday, Jul 30 at 7:04 PM

It's news most commercial fishermen have been waiting for since the BP oil spill docked their boats more than 100 days ago.

Nearly 2,400 square miles of Louisiana waters east of the Mississippi River, off the coasts of Plaquemines, St. Bernard and St. Tammany parishes have been declared safe for finfish and shrimp.

"We all feel very confident standing here today that the products that will be harvested from these waters will be safe, wholesome and delicious for human consumption." said Commissioner Margaret Hamburg from the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Hamburg flew to New Orleans to announce the reopenings. 

She says seafood samples were tested for both oil and chemicals used to disperse the crude that gushed out of the broken wellhead. 

"The levels tested were extremely low," said Hamburg. :They were significantly below the threshold of concern." 

Fisherman Pete Gerica in New Orleans East complains that the area reopened is relatively small and that the FDA picked the wrong seafood to approve.

"The shrimp season is closed, technically, so you can't do that except for a few little spots in outside and in Lake Pontchartrain," said Gerica.  "As far as the finfish, it's kind of warm, it's a little harder to catch fish on lines when the weather is this warm."

Gerica says he won't be satisfied until coastal waters reopen for crabs and oysters.

"They throw you a bone, every now and then," said Gerica. "We need to get back to work. It's been over 100 days I believe. It's been a long stretch for some people who aren't able to make money other ways."

Sunseri, whose family owned P&J Oyster Company stopped shucking last month says the reopenings give him hope that local oyster beds will also be back, sooner than later. 

If the oyster beds open up next and everyone's ready to go back to work, we'll be right there along side them, ready to go back to work," said Sunseri. 

Reopening the fisheries is step one in getting Louisiana seafood back to market. 

But, Ewell Smith from the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board says it will take an extended period of comprehensive testing to rebuild confidence in the brand. 

"We need to work with EPA, NOAA, FDA and Wildlife and Fisheries and Department of Health and Hospitals, all those agencies need to come together and have a comprehensive testing program that they can report on regularly," said Smith. "And, literally bore the consumer with good news about the safety of our seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana. 

Mississippi is also reopening some of its waters to both recreational and commercial fishing.

Friday, the state announced fisheries north of the barrier islands are now open for finfish and shrimp.

Like in Louisiana, crabs and oysters are still off limits. 

Waters south of the barrier islands remain closed.

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