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BP frees up money to market Florida seafood

By KEVIN WADLOW kwadlow@keynoter.com

Florida’s seafood industry will get $20 million in BP oil-spill funding over the next three years to inspect Gulf of Mexico harvests and promote the state’s commercial catch.

Whether any of that money winds up being spent specifically to benefit the Florida Keys remains to be seen, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“We hope that the fleet in Key West and the Keys will benefit from the seafood marketing plan,” said agency spokeswoman Liz Compton.

“Perception is the biggest problem in marketing Florida seafood from the Gulf of Mexico,” she said. “We’ll be able to say our seafood has not been affected [by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill] and here is the scientific testing to show how we know.”

BP officials agreed this week to provide the $20 million to counteract public concerns about possible contamination from the spilled oil.

Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson wrote to BP President Bob Dudley in July “outlining the added costs [the agriculture] department will incur in years to come to assure the safety of Gulf seafood and initiate marketing efforts in response to the Deepwater Horizon incident last spring.”

The agency noted “there were concerns at that time that more oil would reach Florida waters.”

While the Deepwater Horizon leak has been capped, large quantities of spill oil remain in the Gulf of Mexico, Compton said.

“We’ve been lucky so far but we don’t know what’s going to happen if a hurricane comes.” she said. “We’re looking down the road with an abundance of caution. It’s not like a big spill is something that happens every year.”

If some Florida-caught fish from the Gulf of Mexico should show signs of being affected by oil or chemical-dispersant residue, the agreement calls for additional funding.

Gulf seafood species of concern include shrimp, crabs, oysters and dozens of species of fin fish, according to the state.

The Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen’s Association points out that in a 2006 survey, Monroe County was ranked the fifth most valuable seafood port in the nation, with a dockside value of about $54.4 million. An estimated 1,200 local families depend on the local seafood industry for their livelihoods. Shrimp caught from Keys waters are carried aboard boats to ports all along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

Certification that Gulf waters apparently have not been damaged by spilled oil also can benefit the recreational fishing industry, Bronson said.

Source: BP frees up money to market Florida seafood

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