"Out of an abundance of caution," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week closed 4,213 square miles of Gulf of Mexico federal waters off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to royal red shrimping.
The precautionary measure was taken after a commercial shrimper, having hauled in his catch of the deepwater shrimp, discovered tar balls in his net, NOAA said. Fishing for royal red shrimp is conducted by pulling fishing nets across the bottom of the ocean floor. The tar balls found in the catch may have been entrained in the net as it was dragged along the sea floor.
After the report of tar balls, NOAA was in contact with shrimpers involved in royal red shrimping in the area. Only a handful of about 250 permitted royal red shrimp fishermen are active in the fishery.
The Coast Guard is analyzing the tar balls to determine whether they are from the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill.
"We are taking this situation seriously. This fishery is the only trawl fishery that operates at the deep depths where the tar balls were found and we have not received reports of any other gear or fishery interactions with tar balls," said Roy Crabtree, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service Southeast region, in a statement. "Our primary concerns are public safety and ensuring the integrity of the Gulf's seafood supply."
An area covering 1,041 square miles surrounding the Deepwater Horizon wellhead remains closed to commercial and recreational fishing.