Commerce Secretary tours Pascagoula seafood lab

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - By Patrice Clark – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) – Another small area of the Gulf of Mexico once contaminated by the oil spill, reopened to commercial and recreational fishing Tuesday. Some 23,000 square miles, or about ten percent of the Gulf, remains off limits to fishing.

Government officials say seafood caught in the other areas is safe to eat. But the U.S. Secretary of Commerce admits many Americans still aren't convinced. He came to NOAA's seafood lab in Pascagoula Tuesday to see the testing being done to ensure Gulf seafood is safe.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke boarded a NOAA Survey Vessel in Pascagoula with safe seafood testing on his mind.

"Are we using this ship to sample the water or are we sampling seafood?" Locke asked.

THe NOAA lab director responded, "We are sampling seafood. Depending on the area we are sampling, we have list of about 40 different species that we target."

Locke also got a firsthand look at the seafood smell and taste testing labs. Since BP's gigantic oil spill, fisherman and seafood lovers have been worrying if the fish, shrimp and oysters are contaminated. Locke believes NOAA's massive testing operation is great example of how serious government scientists are about making sure the Gulf seafood is safe.

"It is not just testing of the seafood in the area, but it's taking samples of what is being caught on the dockside and just subjecting it to really intense testing."

Locke said he hopes constant testing will help calm fears and put Gulf seafood back on America's tables.

"I have the utmost confidence in the safety of the seafood that is available American consumer."

Locke said the Obama Administration will continue to work with NOAA to make sure testing continues and work with the coast to promote Gulf seafood.

"We are also having campaigns all around the country encouraging American consumers and people who eat at restaurants to order Gulf seafood, feel absolutely confident in it."

Locke said it won't be easy restoring that confidence, but knows it's a must to keep the industry from sinking.

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