87 percent of gulf open, NOAA says

Sept. 22, 2010 at 8:00 AM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- More than 85 percent of U.S. federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico are open to commercial and recreational fishing, NOAA announced Wednesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration responded to the summer oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by closing key fishing areas in the region. At the height of the spill, 37 percent of the gulf -- more than 88,000 square miles -- was closed to fishing.

NOAA announced Wednesday that it reopened 7,970 square miles of federal waters, meaning 87 percent of the gulf is open to fishing.

"This area is significant to commercial and recreational fishermen who target tunas and billfish that migrate far and wide and provide an important source of income and sport," said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco in a statement.

The opening Wednesday includes waters that are within 50 miles of the site of the BP oil spill. BP announced during the weekend that it permanently sealed the broken well at the bottom of the ocean.

About 32,000 square miles of the gulf remains closed to fishing out of concern for oil or chemical dispersant contamination.

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