PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (AP) – A federal fishing ban was lifted
Tuesday in more than 5,000 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico along
the Florida Panhandle, giving hope to a region largely dependent on
a reputation for clean waters and plentiful fish.
The reopened area includes waters from Pensacola east to Cape
San Blas and extending south into the open Gulf.
No oil has been observed in those waters since July 3, National
Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco
Grouper, snapper, tuna and mahi mahi collected from June 27
through July 20 did not show any signs of contamination, though
monitoring will continue.
“The first and most important step in protecting the safety of
Gulf seafood has been fishery closures,” she said on a marina in
Panama City Beach. “Now I say to fisherman, ‘Let’s go
Large swaths of the Gulf off Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and
Florida have been closed to fishing since the April 20 explosion on
the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 workers. NOAA reopened federal
waters off the Florida peninsula last month.
Gov. Charlie Crist said he joined Panhandle fishermen in
celebrating “this much-needed boost to our economy and quality of
Commercial and recreational fishing help drive tourism to the
Panhandle’s white sands, and boat captains hoped Lubchenco’s
announcement would lure tourists wanting to cast lines into deeper
“It means a lot to know that we can go out farther. The first
question people ask when they step up to the harbor is, ‘How far
out can we go?'” said 74-year-old Olin Marler, who owns seven
charter fishing boats in Destin.
Half-day fishing trips in state waters have replaced the 12-hour
tours his 45-year-old son Greg usually leads during the summer.
Business has been down 70 percent.
“With the federal closures, people haven’t wanted to go out for
that long,” Greg Marler said.
Federal waters begin about 10 miles from Florida’s shores.
All state waters remained open to fishing throughout the oil
leak, except for a 23-mile stretch from the Alabama-Florida line to
just east of Pensacola Beach. The state reopened those waters to
fishing after six weeks on July 31, but crabbing and shrimping
there remain restricted pending further testing.
“We never had the big oil problems that everybody thinks we had.
It’s just been a perception that’s really hurt the industry,” said
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Lee
Florida’s seafood has tested cleanly, and the shoreline
shouldn’t expect anything more serious than tar balls as the
cleanup efforts continue, officials said.
Lubchenco told reporters that samples collected from the
reopened areas passed both chemical analysis and “sensory testing”
by people trained to sniff out oil and dispersants.
Commercial fisherman Jack Conzelman of Panama City said he
wasn’t worried about eating anything he catches in the reopened
waters. The 55-year-old would be more concerned if he got to his
usual fishing grounds about 30 miles offshore and found
“The fish should be plentiful because they haven’t been fished
for months,” he said.
At its closest point, the area reopening at 6 p.m. Tuesday is
about 115 miles northeast of the Deepwater wellhead, and far from
where any dispersant was used to break up the crude, Lubchenco
The closed area now covers more than 52,000 miles, or 22 percent
of the federal waters in the Gulf, down from 37 percent at the
height of the spill.
Crews drilling a relief well aimed at putting a permanent
underground plug in BP’s busted oil well in the Gulf of Mexico will
suspend their work until storms pass, possibly delaying completion
of the relief well by two or three days. They have about 30 feet
left to drill.
The new well is meant to allow BP to pump mud and cement into
the broken one from deep underground for a so-called bottom kill
that would complement a mud and cement plug injected into the top
of the well last week.