NOAA reopens federal waters off Panhandle
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09/03/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Friday | Listen to this entire show:

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Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it’s reopening a large chunk of federal waters of Florida’s panhandle to fishing. The announcement comes after sensory and chemical testing of area fin fish.

Roy Crabtree, Fisheries Administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service, said in a teleconference today there were three steps in assuring seafood in the more than 3,000 square-mile area was safe. The first was making sure there was no oil in the water. The next was what he called a sensory test of 104 tuna, mahi, and swordfish, where a specialist smells and tastes for oil or dispersants. A chemical test of 101 sample fish followed.

This so-called reopening protocol took place on July 19th as well as from August 20th through August 24th. Crabtree said testing will continue in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration.

Crabtree said, this leaves less than 20% of federal waters closed to commercial and recreational fishing.

While nearly 40,000 square miles of federal waters remain closed to fishing, that area is considerably less than the 88,000 square miles that were shut down at the height of the BP oil disaster. Crabtree said his agency is still in the process of developing a chemical test to detect whether the record amount of dispersants that were dumped into the gulf has affected sea life. Tomorrow, University of South Florida researchers will embark on another mission aboard the Research Vessel Weatherbird II, during which they plan to further investigate the impacts of oil on the gulf food web.

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