Effective October 15, 2010 at 6 p.m. eastern time (5 p.m. central time), NOAA will reopen 6,879 square miles (17,816 sq km) of area it had previously closed to commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico in response to the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The area closed to all fishing now measures 16,481 sq mi (42,686 sq km) and covers about 7% of the Gulf of Mexico exclusive economic zone. All commercial and recreational fishing including catch and release is prohibited in this closed area. Transit through the closed area is allowed. The next federal re-opening priority is a 7,037-square mile area located about 80 nautical miles south of the Florida panhandle.
The re-opened area was originally closed because oil was present in the area; however, no oil or sheen has been documented in the area since July 13. Trajectory models show the area is at a low risk for future exposure to oil. NOAA analyzed 126 finfish samples for sensory analysis and 121 finfish samples in 30 composites for chemical analysis, including commercially and recreationally important species, such as swordfish, tuna, and mahi mahi. Sensory testing showed no detectable oil or dispersant odors or flavors in the samples, and the results of chemical analysis were well below levels of concern for oil.
NOAA continues to work closely with the FDA and the states to ensure seafood safety, by closing fishing areas where tainted seafood could potentially be caught, and assessing whether seafood is tainted or contaminated to levels that pose a risk to human health. NOAA and FDA are working together to sample seafood from inside and outside the closure area, as well as dockside- and market-based sampling.
Modeling and mapping the actual and projected spill area is not an exact science. NOAA Fisheries Service strongly advises fishermen not to fish in areas where oil or oil sheens (very thin layers of floating oil) are present, even if those areas are not currently closed to fishing.
If state waters are closed to fishing due to the oil spill, all vessels must comply with that closure. If state waters are not closed to fishing due to the oil spill, federally permitted vessels may fish in those waters while abiding by all other applicable regulations.
Permit holders are reminded to maintain their federal vessel permits by submitting timely reporting requirements and renewal applications, even if the vessel is not currently engaged in fishing activities.