The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have ramped up inspection efforts to ensure fish and seafood from areas near the BP oil spill are safe to eat.

“Closing harvest waters that could be exposed to oil protects the public from potentially contaminated seafood because it keeps the product from entering the food supply,” says NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, PhD.

Fishery areas were first closed May 2, and closures have been adjusted based on the spill’s trajectory (to include a 5-nautical-mile buffer).

To help prevent tainted seafood from reaching the marketplace, NOAA is collecting, sampling and inspecting commercial and recreational fish and shellfish from areas the spill has yet to reach. Ongoing surveillance will determine whether contamination has occurred and new areas must be closed.

The FDA’s initial targets are oysters, crab and shrimp, which retain contaminants longer than finfish. First in line for inspection are processors who buy seafood directly from harvesters.

“We recognize that the effects of the oil spill continue to grow as oil continues to flow,” Dr. Lubchenco says. “As remediation efforts continue, it may be possible to alleviate some of the economic harm caused by the oil spill by reopening previously closed areas. NOAA will reopen areas only if assured that fish products taken from these areas meet FDA standards for public health.”

“FDA has set up a hotline for reporting seafood safety issues,” adds FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD. “We encourage fishermen and consumers to report potential contamination to (888) INFO-FDA.”

Photo courtesy of NOAA