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NOAA closes fishing in oil-affected portions of Gulf of Mexico

May 3, 2010 | 11:12 am

A Louisiana charter boat operator cleans his boat at a Venice marina after a commercial and recreational fishing ban was imposed by the NOAA.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has closed fishing to both recreational and commercial anglers for a minimum of 10 days, effective immediately, in more than 6,800 square miles of federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill -- largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida's Pensacola Bay.

"NOAA scientists are on the ground in the area of the oil spill taking water and seafood samples in an effort to ensure the safety of the seafood and fishing activities," Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator, said in a statement  issued Sunday. 

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most popular areas for recreational fishing in the United States.  According to NOAA, there were 3.2 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico region who took 24 million fishing trips in 2008.

There are also more than 2,300 tackle shops in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle that will be affected by the lack of business from recreational anglers.

"Recreational fishing contributes $41 billion dollars in economic output in the Gulf Coast region annually and supports over 300,000 jobs," says American Sportfishing Assn. President and CEO Mike Nussman. "While the impact on recreational fisheries and wildlife is impossible to gauge at this time, everything must be done to clean up this massive spill and measures must be put in place to ensure that something like this does not happen again."

NOAA will continue to evaluate the need for the fishing closures based on the evolving nature of the spill. 

"We stand with America's fisherman, their families and businesses in impacted coastal communities during this very challenging time. Fishing is vital to our economy and our quality of life and we will work tirelessly protect to it," said Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. 

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: A charter boat operator cleans his boat at a Venice, La., marina after a commercial and recreational fishing ban was imposed by NOAA. Credit: Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images