By Veronica Del Bianco.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is reopening fishing waters in the Gulf of Mexico to commercial fishermen, confident that the seafood harvest from those areas is safe despite the BP oil spill.
“The hardest task,” says Gary Shigenaka a NOAA marine biologist and seafood safety specialist, “is convincing people across the country and around the world that seafood from the Gulf Coast, and Louisiana in particular, remains safe.”
Shigenaka began his work in the aftermath of the Exxon-Valdez disaster and has been studying oil spills for the past two decades as part of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) which provides scientific support for oil and chemical spill response and damage assessments in coastal waters.
Since the April 20th, 2010, Deepwater Horizon Rig explosion, Shigenaka has spent the majority of his time at the Incident Command Post Center in Houma, Louisiana.
“I have taken a look at the results from both the state and federal sampling that’s going on to date, there has been virtually nothing found,” says Shigenaka.
Samples of finfish, shrimp, crabs, and mollusks have been taken and tested for chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are carcinogenic. A panel consisting of a minimum of 10 expert sensory assessors evaluates each sample in both a raw and cooked state, after which a chemical analysis is conducted. Samples need to pass both sensory and chemical evaluations in order to be considered safe for consumption and to reopen the fishery that was the source of the samples.
“In some ways it’s surprising for a spill of this magnitude covering such a big area,” says Shigenaka, “but its really encouraging that we are seeing no impacts to the safety of the seafood.”
NOAA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among other state and federal agencies and organizations, continue to monitor seafood dockside to ensure its safety so that Americans can enjoy Louisiana seafood with confidence.