Some Gulf fishermen protest re-opening of fishing grounds

noaa_fisheries_reopening.jpgAs the Gulf Coast's seafood industry works to bolster public confidence in the safety of its product, fishermen from four Gulf states held a press conference over the weekend to voice concerns about what they consider to be the premature opening of commercial fishing grounds following the BP oil disaster.

The press conference took place Saturday afternoon in Ocean Springs, Miss. following a listening session with Ray Mabus, the federal official in charge of developing a long-term Gulf restoration plan.

"Gulf Coast fishermen do not want to sell tainted seafood but are being forced, by the premature opening of inland and gulf waters to commercial fishing, to choose between a clean gulf or their livelihood," according to a press release announcing the event. "Fishermen would rather work cleaning the severely damaged gulf than selling tainted seafood."

Among those involved in organizing the event were Chris Bryant, a commercial fisherman from Alabama; Louisiana Bayoukeeper Tracy Kuhns, whose husband is a commercial fisherman; and Thao Vu with the Mississippi office of Boat People SOS, which works with many Vietnamese-American fishermen.

The concerned fishermen are demanding that all dispersant use be stopped immediately and that all fishing re-openings be halted until seafood tissue sampling shows it to be safe. They also want local commercial fishermen to be given first shot at cleanup and recovery jobs.

Concerns over the safety of Gulf seafood deepened last week after crabbers in coastal Mississippi pulled up dozens of crabs with black-tainted gills -- something they'd never seen before. Crabs are bottom feeders, so the presence of oil in their tissues suggests the pollution is now covering the sea floor.

But as previously closed fishing grounds re-open, federal officials are trying to convince the public that Gulf seafood is safe to eat. Walt Dickhoff, who oversees chemical testing for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Seattle seafood testing lab, told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that Gulf seafood is receiving unprecedented scrutiny and that he's "quite confident" it's safe to eat.

Meanwhile, Louisiana seafood promotion board chairman Harlon Pearce is heading up a delegation to Washington this week to tout the safety of his state's product. He has plans to make a 30-foot-long shrimp and oyster po' boy for federal officials, the Associated Press reports.