NOAA closes 4,200 square miles of Gulf to Royal Red Shrimping - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

NOAA closes 4,200 square miles of Gulf to Royal Red Shrimping

GULF OF MEXICO (WLOX) - More than 4,000 square miles of federal water in the Gulf of Mexico is now closed to royal red shrimping. This area includes the federal waters closest to Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. The closure is effective Wednesday at 6pm, and does not apply to any state waters.

NOAA made the decision after a commercial shrimper hauled in his catch of the deep water shrimp this week and discovered tar balls in his net.

Fishing for royal red shrimp is conducted by pulling fishing nets across the bottom of the ocean floor. NOAA officials believe the tar balls found in the catch may have been entrained in the net as it was dragged along the seafloor. The fisherman who reported this catch had trawled for brown shrimp in shallow waters in a different portion of the area to be closed earlier in the day without seeing tar balls.

"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. "Our primary concerns are public safety and ensuring the integrity of the Gulf's seafood supply."

After the tar balls were found, NOAA contacted shrimpers who catch royal reds in this area. But only a handful of the permitted fishermen are currently active. Fishing for other shellfish and finfish species within this area is still allowed.

The tar balls are being analyzed by the U.S. Coast Guard to determine if they are from the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill.

NOAA is sending vessels to the area to re-sample for royal red shrimp. The agency will reopen the area after determining there is no seafood safety concern.

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