FWC's September Fish Busters
The Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire on an offshore oil-drilling platform on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico has been described as one of the largest marine oil spills in history. The threat to Florida's commercial and recreational fisheries was immense, as well as creating the risk of injury to marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles and flora and fauna throughout the food chain. Even further it threatened fisheries-dependent businesses and the tourism economy. Fortunately, with the diversity and scope of Florida's fisheries, we feel confident that Florida retained the title of "Fishing Capital of the World," based on our great resources and responsible management.
From the beginning, freshwater fisheries biologists stepped up to help with response efforts to protect Florida's marine species. Even though our freshwater fisheries were not directly challenged, we were concerned about impacts on estuarine and riverine species especially if species such as crabs - a major food source for marine life - were to become contaminated. Largemouth and striped bass around the mouths of Northwest Florida rivers could be impacted by oil if it washed in far enough. Fortunately, there is no scientific evidence that show these impacts.
BP, the U.S. Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service were designated as lead response agencies (www.restorethegulf.gov) nationally. In Florida, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was the lead agency for responding to the oil spill.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has and will play a vital role throughout this event until impacts are known and dealt with effectively. FWC staff (working with DEP, county governments, water management districts and several federal agencies) has conducted pre- and post-spill fish and wildlife assessments. These include taking water samples and testing for contamination in sediments, fish and shellfish and evaluating critical habitat for fish, and especially shorebird and sea turtle nesting areas that might be impacted.
The FWC was very involved in locating the presence of oil, using scientists aboard FWC law enforcement and research vessels offshore, as well as patrolling beaches using all-terrain vehicles and doing flyovers with both rotary and fixed wing aircraft.
FWCDuring the spills peak disbursement period in late June, NOAA had closed nearly 36 percent of federally controlled Gulf waters to fishing, by mid-August all but about 20 percent was reopened. Within the state's jurisdiction (from the shoreline nine miles out into the Gulf) the FWC had (June 14-July 31) closed a 24-mile long area offshore of Escambia County to harvest of saltwater fish, as a precaution due to possible oil impacts.
Upon reopening the fishery, Nick Wiley, executive director of the FWC, stated: "This is great news for all Floridians and particularly our coastal communities, where fishing is such an important component of their economy and way of life. We can all be confident that fish caught in Florida waters are healthy and great to eat."
Analysis conducted under supervision of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and NOAA confirmed fish are safe and oil-free. Oysters, clams and mussels had not been included in the closure and were open to harvest; however, the area remained closed to harvest of shrimp and crabs (see MyFWC.com/OilSpill for current status).
The Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management is also involved with efforts to help promote fishing in Northwest Florida. The area is known for excellent bass, bream, crappie, striper and catfish. The western Panhandle areas are naturally dependent on river fisheries, but back in the 1970s the state created a series of Commission-Managed Impoundments that are intensely managed to provide popular fishing oppor