US Commerce chief says Gulf seafood is safe

Published 2:42 pm Thursday, October 7, 2010

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said Tuesday he has complete confidence in the safety of seafood caught in Gulf of Mexico waters that have been reopened since BP’s underwater well blew out, spewing millions of gallons of oil into the sea.

However, he recognizes the region has an ongoing image problem, and that fishermen are having a tough time selling their catch even after federal scientists have deemed it safe for consumption.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Locke said during a tour of a federal seafood testing lab in Mississippi.

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“The seafood is safe,” he said. “We’ve just got to get the word out … I have confidence, the president has confidence, the restaurants and fishermen have confidence. We just need to keep repeating that message.”

Also Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the reopening of 2,927 square miles of Gulf waters to recreational and commercial fishing, making about 90 percent of Gulf federal waters now open since the spill.

The area is about 40 miles south of BP’s now capped well. NOAA says no oil or sheen has been found in the area since July 31.

Roughly 23,000 square miles remain closed.

At the height of the spill, about 37 percent of federal waters in the Gulf were closed, or 88,522 square miles.

Officials insist that all seafood caught in the reopened areas is safe to consume.

“Before we open up any area for fishing, we make absolutely sure that there is no detectable oil of any kind or compounds in the fish and seafood that is harvested,” Locke said. “I have personally the utmost confidence in the safety of the seafood that is available to the American consumer coming from the Gulf.”