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Aug 17, 2010 6:56 AM by Sharlee Barriere

Louisiana Shrimpers Reporting Clean 1st Day Catch

GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) - Commercial shrimpers out for the first
season since BP's disastrous spill indicated their catch was
plentiful and free of oil, despite a report by scientists that much
of the crude remains below the surface of the Gulf.
Fishermen spent much of the summer mopping up oil but got back
to work as the fall shrimping season in Louisiana's coastal waters
opened Monday amid anxiety over whether the catch will be tainted
by crude and whether anyone will buy it even if it is clean.
"We're not seeing any oil where I'm at. No tar balls,
nothing," said Brian Amos, a 53-year-old shrimper who trawled in
his 28-foot skiff, The Rolling Thunder, in a bay near Empire.
It was a step toward normalcy for many coastal towns that have
been in limbo in the nearly four months since the spill shut down
fishing, an economic linchpin for dock owners, restaurants and many
other businesses along the Louisiana coast. Louisiana ranks first
in the nation in shrimp, blue crab, crawfish and oysters, and the
state's seafood industry overall generates an estimated $2.4
billion a year.
Also Monday, five Georgia scientists who reviewed government
data said that instead of only 26 percent of the oil remaining in
the Gulf, as a federal report said earlier this month, it's
actually closer to 80 percent.
"Where has all the oil gone? It hasn't gone anywhere. It still
lurks in the deep," said University of Georgia marine scientist
Chuck Hopkinson. He headed the quick independent look by the
Georgia Sea Grant program at the estimates the White House
released.
White House energy adviser Carol Browner said on morning news
shows earlier this month: "More than three-quarters of the oil is
gone. The vast majority of the oil is gone."
The Georgia team said it is a misinterpretation of data to claim
that oil that is dissolved or dispersed is gone.
"The bottom line is most of it is still out there," Hopkinson
told The Associated Press. "There's nothing in the report to
substantiate the 26 percent."
Amos and his fellow shrimpers were working in Louisiana's
state-controlled waters, which extend three miles from shore.
Shrimpers who ply those waters lost most of their spring season -
which runs from mid-May to early July - because of the spill. The
fall shrimping season runs from mid-August to December.
Shrimping is also open in state-controlled waters off
Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas. Federal waters, which are
open nearly year-round for boats to trawl for bigger shrimp, remain
closed to shrimping off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, though
some spots could open within days, depending on the results of
extensive tests.
Laboratory tests on seafood from the Gulf have shown little
hazard from oil, and a test is being developed for the chemicals
used to disperse the crude, though there is no evidence they build
up in seafood. Still, shrimpers are worried that the public won't
want what they catch.
"I feel that we have had a bad rap on the perception of our
product," said Andrew Blanchard, who waited Monday for shrimp
boats to arrive at his processing plant in Chauvin. Fewer arrived
than normal, five versus the usual 20 on a normal opening day, but
he said that was because most boats are still doing cleanup work
for BP, not because of any problem with the shrimp.
Also Monday:
- Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the
oil-spill crisis for the government, said it will take at least a
week to permanently plug the well with mud and cement once he gives
the go-ahead for the "bottom kill." He said he is not sure when
that will happen, because scientists are working on ways to perform
the kill without further damaging the well.
- The Obama administration announced it is requiring
environmental reviews for all new deep-water oil drilling, ending
the kind of exemptions that allowed BP to drill its ill-fated well
with little scrutiny.
- BP said it will give federal and state health organizations
$52 million to help people dealing with stress and anxiety because
of the spill, which erupted after the offshore drilling rig
Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. The oil
finally stopped flowing in mid-July after BP put a temporary cap on
the blown-out well.
Shrimp prices spiked soon after the rig explosion, fueled by
fears that it would soon be unavailable. But then, despite state
and federal assurances that the seafood reaching the market was
safe, demand dropped and prices crashed a month ago.
Things were precarious in the industry even before the spill.
For the past decade, shrimpers along the Gulf Coast have had to
contend with hurricanes, high fuel prices and a flood of imported
shrimp.
Louisiana's shrimp harvest was valued at $240 million in 2000,
but that dropped to about $133 million last year. The number of
shrimp licenses issued by the state plummeted from about 44,000 in
1986 to 14,000 last year.

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