The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reopened 5,144 square miles off the coast of the Florida Panhandle, allowing fishermen to once again wet a line in these key fishing waters.
NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco said the federal government is working as quickly as possible to reopen the closed fishing grounds, but three criteria must be met before any water can be reopened. First, there must be no oil present and none expected using. Second, fish samples must pass a sensory analysis and finally, samples must also pass a chemical analysis. A sensory analysis is basically a smell test, though NOAA maintains that the human nose is a good detector of both oil and chemical dispersements.
From June 27 through July 20, NOAA sampled 153 finfish in this area, including grouper, snapper, tuna and mahimahi. Active sampling will continue in this area even as it reopens to fishing. The agency has also implemented dockside sampling to test fish caught throughout the Gulf by commercial fishermen.
"We know how important it is to the culture and economy of this region to get back out on the water and be able to once again harvest the seafood that the Gulf is famous for," says Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of food and drugs. "But our top priority in the wake of this disaster must be the safety of the fish that makes it to market."