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Aug 2, 2010 6:00 AM by Sharlee Barriere

Louisiana Fishermen Wrinkle Their Noses at 'Smell Tests'

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) - Even the people who make their
living off the seafood-rich waters of Louisiana's St. Bernard
Parish have a hard time swallowing the government's assurances that
fish harvested in the shallow, muddy waters just offshore must be
safe to eat because they don't smell too bad.
Fresh splotches of chocolate-colored crude, probably globules
broken apart by toxic chemical dispersants sprayed by BP with
government approval, still wash up almost daily on protective boom
and in marshes in reopened fishing grounds east of the Mississippi
River.
When shrimp season opens in a couple of weeks and fisherman
Rusty Graybill drags his nets across the mucky bottom, he worries
that he'll also collect traces of oil and dispersants - and that
even if his catch doesn't smell, buyers and consumers will turn up
their noses.
"If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove
detergent over that, and mixed it up, would you eat that fish?"
asked Graybill, a 28-year-old commercial oyster, blue crab and
shrimp angler who grew up fishing the marshes of St. Bernard. "I
wouldn't feed it to you or my family. I'm afraid someone's going to
get sick."
Louisiana wildlife regulators on Friday reopened
state-controlled waters east of the Mississippi to harvesting of
shrimp and "fin fish" such as redfish, mullet and trout. Smell
tests on dozens of specimens from the area revealed barely
traceable amounts of toxins, the federal Food and Drug
Administration said.
The tests were done not by chemical analysis, but by scientists
trained to detect the smell of oil and dispersant.
Chemical tests on fish for oil-related compounds are routine,
but no such test exists for detecting levels of dispersant, said
Meghan Scott, FDA spokeswoman. Federal scientists are developing
one, she said. It wasn't clear when one would be ready, though.
The dispersants can kill incubating sea life, experts say,
though its long-term effects are unknown. In humans, long-term
exposure can cause central nervous system problems or damage blood,
kidneys or livers, according to the Centers For Disease Control and
Prevention.
Congressional investigators said over the weekend that the Coast
Guard routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of
dispersant a day despite a federal directive to cut its use.
Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Sunday that federal
regulators did not ignore environmental guidelines, but that some
field commanders were given the authority to allow more dispersants
on a case-by-case basis.
BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles took reporters on a boat
tour of beaches and marshes on Sunday and said "they wouldn't open
these waters ... if it wasn't safe to eat the fish." He said he
would eat Gulf seafood and "would serve it to my family."
Like most fishermen in St. Bernard, the bulk of Graybill's
income comes from oysters, blue crab and shrimp. The first two are
still off limits, and the shrimp season doesn't start for two
weeks. Graybill had been earning money from BP under the "Vessels
of Opportunity" program allowing idled fishing vessels to help
with cleanup work, but that program was scaled back Thursday.
Signs that anglers weren't jumping back into the waters abounded
Saturday, especially at the annual Blessing of the Boats in Shell
Beach, Hopedale and Delacroix, where the Rev. John Arnone of St.
Bernard Catholic Church blessed far fewer than usual.
As Graybill maneuvered his light blue shrimp trawler Saturday
near Comfort Island, which borders the open fishing grounds in
Chandeleur Sound, fresh globs of oil glistened in the midday sun,
staining the orange and yellow boom protecting the island. A dozen
or so brown pelicans lazed on the oily boom.
Just the perception that he'll be pulling in oily shrimp, let
alone that it might really happen, can greatly reduce the price he
can get, he said.
"They capped the well, they stopped the oil, so now they're
trying to hurry up and get us back working to where they can say
everything's fine when it's not," he said. "It's not fine."
Giving the OK to reopen one closed fishery does not mean it
couldn't be closed again if more oil shows up, FDA Commissioner Dr.
Margaret Hamburg said Friday.
"At the moment this is good news," she said after the
reopening announcement. "But we have to remain vigilant."
Across the street from where Graybill usually delivers his
catch, Dawn Nunez's family has for 30 years operated a wholesale
business that sells shrimp to restaurants and seafood processors.
She worries no one will want to the local catch.
It's absurd that the government is reopening the fishery when so
many doubts linger, she said.
"It's nothing but a PR move," she said. "It's going to take
years to know what damage they've done. It's just killed us all."
And relying only on a smell tests stinks, said Ryan Lambert, 52,
a charter fishing captain who sometimes takes his clients out in
the waters that just reopened. Fishing shouldn't resume, he said,
until more data exist and better dispersant testing is devised.
"I have no confidence in their testing methods," Lambert said.
"But BP has just wanted to push, push, push to get us back
fishing. You can't hurry it and then find something bad later," he
said. "You can only cry wolf so many times before (customers)
decide they aren't coming back."

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