Monster Seminar JAM - Deepwater Horizon oil disaster: Seafood safety response
Dr. John Stein, Office of the Science Director, Northwest Fisheries Science Center
The Deepwater Horizon Incident in the Gulf of Mexico, recently voted the top story in 2010 by a major news organization, is the first oil spill to be declared a spill of national significance in U.S. history and immediately raised fear over seafood safety and economic collapse of the Gulf fishing industry. As part of NOAA's response to the spill, NOAA Fisheries in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was responsible for assuring the safety of seafood from the Gulf. Shortly after oil began flowing, significant areas of Gulf waters were closed to fishing. At its peak, over 88 thousand square miles, or nearly 37% of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone was closed for fishing. Seafood sampling started with baseline and surveillance monitoring, which was conducted in designated fishing areas that were impacted or at risk of being impacted by spilled oil. After the well was capped or there was no risk of oiling in an area, sub-regions of the closed area were systematically sampled for re-opening. The Northwest Fisheries Science Center served as the lead laboratory for conducting chemical analyses of Gulf seafood for the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that comprise petroleum and are the compounds of public health concern. Nearly 2000 seafood samples have been analyzed and none contained levels of PAHs that exceeded levels of concern. Along with sensory analysis conducted at the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula and coordinated by NOAA Fisheries Seafood Inspection Program, these results were used by decision makers to re-open closed areas. Communication of NOAA's seafood safety response to a wide range of audiences, both internally and externally, proved challenging but critically important. Because of intense media interest it was necessary that NOAA communication on its seafood safety response was accurate, reliable and consistent. Although NOAA had the lead for analyzing seafood, decisions to close and then re-open fishing areas also involved the FDA , the Gulf states, the Department of Commerce and the White House, all of which required intensive coordination and communication. The Seafood Safety program in the Gulf and the re-opening protocol were developed to be adaptive and respond to changing conditions. This proved crucial as tar balls were encountered in an area that had been re-opened and required re-closing to assure public confidence in harvested seafood. Nonetheless, rebuilding confidence in the safety of Gulf seafood requires much attention and continues to be very challenging and will take time.
Date and Time:
February 24, 2011,
11:00 am - 12:00 pm