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Florida officials partially close coastline to commercial fishing following oil spill

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) [official website] on Sunday announced the closure [executive order, PDF] of approximately 23 miles of the state's coastline to commercial harvesting of saltwater fish, crabs and shrimp out of concern for possible health risks associated with fish from oil-contaminated water. The order went into effect Monday and was issued due to the presence of oil in the water following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The affected area begins at the Alabama-Florida border and includes the waters nine nautical miles into the Gulf of Mexico. A ban on fishing in the federal waters around this area has been in place [Palm Beach Post report] for the last month. Fishermen who have legally caught fish in other waters will still be permitted to travel through the affected area to their home marina, and "catch and release" fishing in the water is still permitted as long as the fish is not kept for human consumption. FWC indicated that it is monitoring the health of other marine shellfish populations, but noted that commercial harvesting of oysters, clams and mussels is still allowed in the closed waters because the oil is not expected to affect the health of these particular shellfish populations. All of the state's inland waters and estuaries remain open to all types of commercial fishing. A spokesman for FWC commented on the overall health [press release] of Florida's coastline:

The oil spill in the Gulf is still far from most of Florida's vast coastlines, and while the FWC continues to carefully track oil spill developments and prepare for possible impacts, Florida's abundant saltwater fisheries remain in good health and the fish you buy in a commercial outlet or restaurant are safe and wholesome to eat. The FWC encourages residents and visitors to go fishing in Florida and to enjoy fresh Florida seafood.
The affected waters will remain closed indefinitely.

The federal government continues examining its options for dealing with the oil spill and future drilling regulations. Last week, US President Barack Obama [official website] called for new oil pollution laws [statement; JURIST report], emphasizing the need to need to update the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 [materials], a piece of legislation that was passed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill [backgrounder]. Obama also called on Congress to pass energy reform legislation, several versions of which have been introduced [JURIST report] in recent months. Earlier this month, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website] announced that the Department of Justice [official website] would be reviewing whether any criminal or civil laws were violated by BP [JURIST report]. Holder cited several statutes being examined by government lawyers including the Clean Water Act [materials] and the Oil Pollution Act. Obama held a press conference in May to announce new regulations to mitigate future oil spills [JURIST report] and the current plan of action for resolving the crisis created by the ongoing spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The government suspended several offshore drilling activities including exploration of platform locations in Alaska, pending lease sales in the Gulf and Virginia, and the drilling of 33 deepwater exploratory wells in the Gulf. The government also suspended the issuance of new permits to drill deepwater wells for six months.

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