WASHINGTON — U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke last week declared a fishery disaster in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, due to the ongoing effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which began after the offshore rig exploded on April 20. The disaster declaration makes fishermen and their local communities eligible for federal funds.
“We are taking this action … because of the potentially significant economic hardship this spill may cause fishermen and the businesses and communities that depend on those fisheries,” Locke said in a statement. “The disaster determination will help ensure that the federal government is in a position to mobilize the full range of assistance that fishermen and fishing communities may need.”
The area in the Gulf of Mexico where commercial fishing is temporarily off-limits was also doubled to 46,000 square miles by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and now accounts for 20% of federal waters in the area.
Although gulf seafood accounts for only 5% of total seafood consumed in the United States, the seafood industry there is a vital, $2.4 billion component of the region's economy. Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to emphasize that seafood harvested from unaffected areas in the region is still safe to consume, and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NOAA have continued to monitor the operational fisheries in the region.