US government declares ‘fishery disaster’ in Gulf of Mexico

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

The government has declared a ‘fishery disaster’ in the Gulf of Mexico due to the massive oil spill in the region, the US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Monday.

The fishing area affected includes Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, an area where more than 1bn pounds of fish and shellfish were harvested in 2008, according to the most recent available government figures.

Louisiana is the top provider of shrimp, oysters, crab and crayfish in the United States, providing about a third of the seafood consumed, according to the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. Since May 2 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has closed about 20 percent of the commercial fishing waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Locke said in a statement: “We are taking this action today [Monday] because of the potentially significant economic hardship this spill may cause fishermen and the businesses and communities that depend on those fisheries. The disaster determination will help ensure that the Federal government is in a position to mobilize the full range of assistance that fishermen and fishing communities may need.”

The Commerce Department said its declaration was made in response to requests from the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi, after access was lost to many commercial fisheries, as well as in response to the existing and anticipated environmental damage from the spill, in order to give access to federal resources and assistance for those affected.

The department has not revealed any figures or indication of when help might be made available.

Although it is expected that BP will cover the full costs of economic damages and restoration of affected fisheries, the department has requested “$15 million of supplemental funding as a backstop to address this disaster, as well as $5 million of economic development assistance through the Economic Development Administration.”

It said it would also request unemployment coverage for the disaster, economic injury disaster loans would be made available to fishermen and other affected businesses.

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