The oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil rig is devastating much of the Gulf of Mexico with wide ranging impacts from smothering coastal marshes, pelicans and turtles, to closing fishing grounds and potentially destroying the livelihoods of local fishermen. Because fishing is such an important industry to coastal communities, short or long-term closure of fishing grounds has ripple effects throughout the entire community. Currently about one-third of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico is closed to commercial fishing, representing almost 80,000 square miles.
Many types of seafood cannot be fished including oysters, shrimp, crabs and finfish. The Gulf of Mexico is a major fishing region for oysters and shrimp, providing about two-thirds of domestic supply to U.S. consumers. Some seafood species will have reduced supply, possibly for some time.
Understandably, there is much concern about whether seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat. The area closed for fishing includes a 5 mile buffer zone around any oil slick to keep contaminated fish from moving to areas where they can be caught. This area is monitored daily. State and federal health departments are also testing seafood caught from “open areas” to check for oil contamination. These measures mean that it is very unlikely for any contaminated seafood from the Gulf region to enter U.S. markets.
The fishermen and coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico are hurting and while it is normal to have concerns, we do need to support these fishermen where possible.