Shelby seeks fisheries disaster declaration for Alabama

Federal officials are expanding zones in the Gulf of Mexico that are off-limits to fishing because of the widening oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) is asking the federal government to declare a commercial fishing disaster in his state.

“Alabama’s fishing industry represents one of the largest economic engines in the state – accounting for more than $800 million in sales and nearly 18,000 jobs,” Shelby wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, whose department is responsible for overseeing U.S. fisheries. “A federal fisheries disaster declaration will provide immediate federal assistance to this area and mitigate devastating impacts to the Gulf’s fisheries,” Shelby wrote.

Senator Shelby, the ranking Republican on the Senate panel that helps write the commerce department’s budget, said that “it is indisputable that the crisis we now face is man-made.”

“If the oil continues to spill in the Gulf unabated, it will not only destroy the fisheries this year, but will adversely impact the Gulf’s ecosystem for decades … we must proactively work to adequately deal with this situation,” Shelby wrote.

Shelby’s request for a fisheries disaster echoes the request made by Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) for a federal disaster declaration for his state’s fishing industry. Vitter made his request four days ago but there has not been an official response.

Large swaths of federal waters from the Mississippi River to the Florida panhandle were closed to fishing after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and then sank on April 22. Those waters accounted for about 7 percent of federal waters in the Gulf.

Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it is expanding that closed area, which now will encompass 46,000 square miles or about 19 percent of federal waters in the Gulf.