The government ordered a halt on Sunday to fishing in areas affected by the ever-spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, a ban that covers waters from Louisiana to Florida and hinders the livelihoods of untold numbers of fishermen.
Citing public safety concerns, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restricted fishing for at least 10 days in the affected waters, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Pensacola Bay in Florida. Scientists were taking samples of water and seafood to ensure food safety.
“We want to make sure that we can maintain the public confidence in the safety of the food supply and make sure that members of the public aren’t at risk,” said Roy Crabtree, the Southeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We’ll continue to look at this and evaluate this.”
Trawlers fishing for swordfish and tuna, and charter-boat operators, many of whom work out of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, are likely to feel the impact more than Louisiana fishermen, said Harlon Pearce, the chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board. He welcomed the restriction as a precautionary measure.
Still, the announcement was hard news for an industry that has already had a rough few years, with high prices, off seasons and devastating storms.
“Everybody’s hanging on for dear life,” said George Barisich, the president of the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association, who was waiting for the bad weather to pass so he could take advantage of an early shrimp season.
Louisiana and Mississippi have already asked the government to declare a fisheries disaster, a requirement for federal disaster aid. Louisiana announced the early shrimp season in certain areas last week so that shrimpers could haul in as much as possible before oil started moving in and potentially damaging the stock. The weather has not been cooperative, however.
“You got to laugh,” Mr. Barisich said. “Just like after Katrina.”
Fishermen, desperate for income, have been signing up to work for the cleanup effort, becoming temporary employees of BP, the company responsible for the accident that has put them, for now, largely out of business. This has led to its own tensions.
Lawyers representing hundreds of Louisiana fishermen who are being hired by BP went to federal court on Sunday with a complaint about the agreements that BP was having them sign. The 17-page agreements, among other things, waived liability for BP for injuries sustained in the cleanup and enforced a confidentiality clause. The outrage was quick, and BP apparently got the message. Steve Rinehart, a spokesman for BP, said the waivers were not going to be required.
“They are not in effect,” Mr. Rinehart said. “We won’t enforce them.”
A hearing was held Sunday afternoon, and BP formally agreed to nullify the objectionable language in the contracts.
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