Obama Views Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf Fisheries Closed

VENICE, Louisiana, May 2, 2010 (ENS) – President Barack Obama is getting an up-close look at the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill today. The President traveled by motorcade along the Mississippi River through marshy lowlands southeast of New Orleans toward Venice, Louisiana.

At the mouth of the Mississippi, Venice is community nearest to the scene of the explosion and fire aboard the oil rig Deepwater Horizon on April 20. The drilling rig burned for 36 hours before sinking in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving crude oil spewing from the broken wellhead on the seafloor and from two other breaks in the piping now strewn across the bottom of the ocean at the rate of at least 5,000 barrels a day.

Because Venice is at the tip of Louisiana closest to the spill area, it is likely to be first to feel the impact of the oily mess.

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who has been here since Friday, and Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen briefed the President regarding shipping lanes, the well capping procedure and the environmental and economic impact of the massive spill.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal thanked President Obama for coming to assess the situation personally. Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu and Plaquemines Parish President Bill Nungesser also met with the President.

The star marks the location of the Deepwater Horizon incident about 51 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. The red line marks the boundaries of the fisheries closure. (Map courtesy NOAA)

Effective immediately, fishing is restricted in federal waters most affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today. The restrictions will last for at least the next 10 days.

“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,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, who met with more than 100 fishermen in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish on Friday night.

“I heard the concerns of the Plaquemines Parish fishermen as well other fishermen and state fishery managers about potential economic impacts of a closure,” said Lubchenco.

“Balancing economic and health concerns, this order closes just those areas that are affected by oil. There should be no health risk in seafood currently in the marketplace,” she said.

Dr. Lubchenco saw the extent of the Deepwater Horizon spill Saturday as she flew over the spill in a NOAA Twin Otter, while NOAA scientific support coordinators briefed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

NOAA is a bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said, “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.”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco talks with local fishermen and charter boat captains during a news conference on the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Venice, Louisiana, April 30, 2010. (Photo by Sean Gardner courtesy Greenpeace)

The federal and state governments have systems in place to test and monitor seafood safety and to prohibit harvesting from affected areas and keeping oiled products out of the marketplace, Locke said.

NOAA Fisheries is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the States to ensure seafood safety, by assessing whether seafood is tainted or contaminated to levels that pose a risk to human health.

“There are finfish, crabs, oysters and shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico near the area of the oil spill,” said Roy Crabtree, NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional administrator. “The gulf is such an important biologic and economic area in terms of seafood production and recreational fishing.”

According to NOAA, there are 3.2 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico region who took 24 million fishing trips in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available. Commercial fishermen in the gulf harvested more than one billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008.

NOAA is working with the state governors to evaluate the need to declare a fisheries disaster in order to facilitate federal aid to fishermen in these areas. Governor Jindal has applied for a fisheries disaster declaration.

Governor Jindal said Saturday, “We continue to be concerned about BP’s ability to respond to this incident.”

“We are past the point of waiting for any clean up plans from BP or the Incident Commander. We have already begun developing contingency plans for parishes – meaning we are preparing detailed secondary response capabilities to protect our land and our people,” said the governor. “We are developing those plans ourselves and we need two things to implement these plans – funding approval from BP and authorization from the Incident Commander.”

A recreational fisherman catches a red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. March 31, 2010. (Photo by John Hollingsworth)

“I want to be very clear on this point – this incident is not just about our coast. It is fundamentally about our way of life in Louisiana. Our shrimpers, our fishermen, the coasts that make Louisiana Sportsmen’s Paradise – this all makes up Louisiana and this is our way of life. We have to do absolutely everything we can to protect our land, our businesses and our communities,” the governor said.

On Saturday, BP approved Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser’s plan to set up barges inside the barrier islands that can serve as staging areas for workers to place containment and absorbent booms.

Governor Jindal said, “These barges can be moved quickly if weather is a problem or another area is identified that needs equipment. These jack up barges can house up to 11 workers. By staging these barges, it will save hours of travel time to get equipment to areas that need to be protected right away. They will also provide five Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Teams, or SCAT teams, to be operated out of the jack up barges. The SCAT teams will install and maintain the booms in the areas most in

Commercial fishing boats in Venice, Louisiana (Photo by Kevin Jobe)

need.”

In St. Tammany Parish, Parish President Kevin Davis is finalizing a plan with the Coast Guard to mitigate the impact of the spill on Lake Pontchartrain and the parish. The plan includes contracting a vendor to place around 7,000 feet of boom or a similar containment structure around Lake Pontchartrain.

NOAA fisheries representatives in the region will be meeting with fishermen this week to assist them. Mississippi as well as Louisiana has requested NOAA to declare a federal fisheries disaster.

BP will be hiring fishermen to help clean up from the spill and deploy boom in the Gulf of Mexico. Already, oyster harvesters are trading their burlap bags for orange oil booms and heading out to lay boom. Interested fishermen should call 425-745-8017.

NOAA will continue to evaluate the need for fisheries closures based on the evolving nature of the spill and will re-open the fisheries as appropriate. NOAA will also re-evaluate the closure areas as new information that would change the dimension of these closed areas becomes available.

BP is now accepting claims for the Gulf Coast oil spill. Claimants can call BP’s helpline at 1-800-440-0858.

If anyone is not satisfied with BP’s resolution, there is an additional avenue for assistance available through the Coast Guard once BP has finalized the claim. Those who have already pursued the BP claims process can call the Coast Guard at 1-800-280-7118.

More information about what types of damages are eligible for compensation under the Oil Pollution Act as well as guidance on procedures to seek that compensation is found at: www.uscg.mil/npfc.

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