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Oil Spill Puts Fisheries, Birds at Risk Along US Gulf Coast

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

American officials have suspended all fishing in parts of the Gulf of Mexico for at least ten days because of the huge oil spill. The restrictions will give scientists time to study the effects on seafood in the gulf.

Sunday's order extended from the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana east to waters of Pensacola Bay in Florida. The affected waters include areas off the coasts of Mississippi and Alabama.

On April twentieth an oil drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploded and sank about eighty kilometers from the Louisiana coast. BP is trying different ways to stop the leak from a damaged undersea well and control the spilled oil.

The chief of British Petroleum blames failures by the rig's operator, Transocean of Switzerland. But BP says it will pay cleanup costs and all "legitimate claims" for losses and damages from the spill. BP is also hiring local fishing boats to help with the cleanup.

Eighty percent of the seafood eaten by Americans is imported. But the fishing industry in Louisiana is responsible for about a third of all seafood caught in the United States.

The fishing ban announced Sunday did not affect state waters west of the Mississippi River. Those waters represent seventy-seven percent of Louisiana's total seafood production. Ewell Smith from the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board says seafood from the unaffected area is safe to eat.

Seafood is worth nearly two and a half billion dollars to the state. The spill comes shortly before the start of the fishing season for crab, shrimp and oysters. Louisiana is the nation's leading producer of shrimp, oysters, crabs, crawfish and alligators.

Louisiana is also one of the world's largest producers of what some call "the most important fish you've never heard of": menhaden. Menhaden and its oil are used in animal feed and other products.
Another important industry along the gulf is tourism. Coastal communities have been waiting and watching for days for oil to arrive on their shores.

Bad weather has interfered with efforts to send out boats to clean up the oil and watch for the effects on wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. Bird populations are among those at risk of being poisoned by the oil. Bird rescue groups have set up stations. But they say finding injured birds in the huge spill and sending out boats to rescue them will be a difficult job.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson with Brian Wagner reporting from Louisiana. I’m Bob Doughty.