Latest reports indicate 19 percent of Gulf closed to fishing

The latest reports from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) indicate that about 19 percent of the Gulf of Mexico is now closed to commercial and recreational fishing as a result of the BP oil spill. The report, released by NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco on Tuesday during the second day of Senate hearings into the disaster, says fishing is shut down in an area covering 45,728 square miles.

The spill is a result of an explosion on the Transocean-owned and BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform on April 20, and its subsequent sinking two days later. Since that time, despite repeated attempts by BP workers, in conjunction with U.S. Coast Guard officials, to stop the leak, about 5,000 barrels of oil per day have been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Some say that’s a conservative estimate, and that much more oil is actually leaking.

Scientists are tracking a huge underwater oil plume, which is a risk to sea life. It can both poison fishes and suck the oxygen supply from the water, damaging the ocean’s ecosystem on multiple levels.

Commercial fishing is a huge industry along the Gulf Coast, accounting for more than $10.5 billion in sales, more than $5.6 billion in income and supporting more than 200,000 jobs in 2008. Additionally, about 6.2 million recreational anglers in the Gulf region spent $2.2 billion on more than 23 million fishing trips in 2006, and 3.2 million recreational fishermen took a Gulf of Mexico fishing trip in 2008.