Florida lifts its Gulf Coast fishing restrictions

Published: Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 31, 2010 at 10:32 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Florida is reopening Gulf waters off Escambia County for the harvesting of saltwater fish.

The 23-mile stretch was closed June 14 to fishing, but the restriction never affected clams, oysters or mussels.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the reopening after lab tests proved local fish safe and oil-free. The sampling and analysis were overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The change, announced late Friday, was scheduled to take effect just after midnight Saturday morning.

The reopened area spans from the Alabama state line to the Pensacola Beach water tower, up to nine nautical miles from the shoreline.

Shrimp and crab harvesting still is not allowed in the area, pending additional tests.

The decision to reopen waters off Florida follows a decision Thursday by Louisiana officials to reopen about 2,400 square miles of state waters to fin fishing and shrimping.

The BP Gulf oil spill in April resulted in the closing of thousands of miles of federal fishing areas, affecting prices and availability of seafood throughout the South, including locally.

Sixty percent of the oyster beds in the waters around Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have been closed, and fewer shrimp have been harvested. Locally, restaurants in Gainesville had reported earlier this month that oyster shortages had not affected prices but that shrimp prices had increased by as much as $2 a pound. Some local and chain restaurants also have removed oysters from the menu.

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