BATON ROUGE More fishing and oyster harvesting areas are being shut down as the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continues to move toward the west.
Two additional oyster harvesting areas areas 8 and 9 - were shut down by the State Department of Health and Hospitals Tuesday, while the NOAA has extended the area closed to fishing further west to central Timbalier Bay, southeast of Houma, Louisiana
The NOAA said the expanded closure now means that about seven percent of the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico are closed to fishing. The area extends east to Choctawhatchee Bay, Florida.
The oyster closures, which will take effect Tuesday at sundown, are west of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish. Areas 10 through 12, also west of the Mississippi, remain open. Area 8 has been closed since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 due to the presence of fecal coliform and remains closed with this order.
DHH officials have been working closely with local, state and federal agencies to monitor the oil plume that continues to grow off of the Louisiana coastline for its potential impacts on oyster harvesting areas. Meanwhile, employees with DHH's Office of Public Health Molluscan Shellfish Program have continued its regular testing throughout 8 million acres of coastal waters along the Louisiana shoreline.
In addition, DHH scientists and engineers are conducting enhanced testing of oyster meat taken from the closed beds to monitor the presence of oil, called hydrocarbon testing. Additional testing is also being conducted in unaffected oyster beds. These tests will create a baseline, which will be used to ensure the safety of oysters once the incident clears in order to reopen beds. Oysters being harvested in unaffected areas and oysters taken prior to closures of the affected beds are safe to eat.
DHH issued closures for areas 2 through 7 on April 30; areas 14 and 15 were closed at sundown May 8. An additional precautionary closure of Area 13 took place at sunset, May 10. Closures will remain in effect until officials have determined that environmental conditions are within the requirements specified by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.