The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission continues to keep state waters open to fishing despite contamination by the BP oil disaster, the Wonk Room has learned. On June 16, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) extended the federal fisheries closure to the federal waters seven miles off Panama City Beach. Meanwhile, the state encouraged fishing with the announcement that “all Florida residents and visitors are invited to fish statewide for saltwater species without a license during the upcoming Father’s Day weekend, June 19-20.” On June 19, tarballs began washing up on Panama City Beach. On June 20, the visible oil slick spread to one mile of the Panama City coast, well within the seven-mile state boundary, but the state did not put the waters off limits to fishing:
Satellite image of oil slick one mile off Panama City, FL, June 20, 2010, from University of Miami.
Gov. Charlie Crist’s (I-FL) office warned residents on June 21 that “the Florida Panhandle will continue to be threatened by shoreline contacts as far east as Panama City through Monday,” but the State Fish & Wildlife Commission kept the waters open, just off the impacted shore. Other than the “partial fishing closure in Escambia County” the commission belatedly imposed, the agency’s official position is that “the rest of Florida’s recreational and commercial fisheries have not been directly affected by the oil spill.”
In an email to the Wonk Room, Wendy Dial, community relations specialist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, explains the agency’s decisions:
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) policy is to evaluate whether state waters should be closed after analyzing the latest over-flight maps with geospatially referenced estimates of oil coverage in a particular area. If it is determined that visible oil covers a significant portion of the area, a closure would be considered, and the FWC would consult with DEP, the Department of Health and other agencies before taking action. Up to now, the 23-mile Escambia county closure is the only area where this determination has been made.