NEW ORLEANS, LA - More waters around the state are reopening to commercial fishing, six months after the start of the oil spill.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced that a section of water, near the mouth of the Mississippi River, is back open for crabbing. Yet, the move may mean little for some who rely on crabs for their livelihoods.
These days, seafood processor Gary Bauer's Slidell-area plant is seeing less Louisiana Blue Crabs and far more crabs that traveled several hundred miles to get there.
"We're still bringing crabs in from out of state, from North Carolina, because we can't get enough crabs right now from the local fishermen," said Bauer, who is also part of the Louisiana Blue Crab Task Force.
In all, more than 98 percent of state waters are now open. The shaded areas on this map are all that remain closed because of the spill.
"There are still some areas in the Mississippi River Delta that are still closed and we want to make sure that when we have guys going out there to harvest crabs that they are really truly in an open area," said Olivia Watkins, spokesperson for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
The areas that just reopened near the mouth of the river were heavily impacted by the spill. However, Watkins says the seafood coming out of the area is safe, and points to more than 300,000 seafood samples collected and tested by the state and federal government.
"In the areas we reopened, those crabs are safe to eat," Watkins said. "Of all of those samples we've done, since the start of the spill, none of them have come back unsafe to eat.
The boundaries for state waters, though, only extend to three miles off the coast. Beyond that, the waters become federal and thousands of square miles of the Gulf remain off limits. This map shows the federal closure: a total of more than 9,400 square miles.
Yet, back at his seafood processing plant, Gary Bauer has hope that as more state waters reopen, more fishermen may be enticed to head back out on the water.
"I sure hope we have an early spring, a productive spring because this has actually been more difficult than Katrina, from a business standpoint, trying to hold it together-- because there were so many unforseens," Bauer said.
One issue he is now grappling with is time, since the crab season will begin winding down as the weather gets colder.
As for the remaining 1.5 percent of state waters that remain closed, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said it is still testing and monitoring the area. At this point, there is no time line for when those waters will reopen.