FWC hears update on oil spill response
Florida is open for business. This was the recurring theme at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) emergency workshop May 19 in St. Pete Beach. The Commission met to discuss agency plans and actions and public concerns related to the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“We need to let the world know Florida is open for business,” FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto told more than 100 people and media representatives attending the meeting. “Our beaches are open, hotels are open, and commercial and recreational fishing is open.”
Barreto emphasized that Florida has had absolutely no impacts from the oil spill and that the current spill trajectories show no impacts in the immediate future.
The Commissioners heard reports from FWC staff and state and federal agency partners on the status of the oil spill. They also learned what the FWC and other agencies are doing in response.
“It’s all hands on deck for wildlife,” Barreto said.
Capt. Tim Close of the U.S. Coast Guard, the lead federal agency for oil spill response, gave the Commission a status report on the oil spill. Timyn Rice of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state’s designated lead agency in this effort, commended BP for stepping up to the plate to provide all necessary resources. Rice acknowledged the response has been a collaborative effort.
FWC division leaders reported that the agency has established two-way communications with fishermen, assessed legal options, and conducted scientific pre-impact sampling of wildlife, habitats and fisheries.
After the staff reports, Commissioners opened the floor to public comment. Representatives from various groups expressed frustration about oil affecting their livelihoods and the possibility of oil impacts on fish and wildlife. But the speakers’ biggest concern involved the lack of accurate information reaching the public.
Barreto received applause from the audience when he said, “Let’s spend a little of BP’s money and get the information out there” about fishery openings and closings. He also stressed the importance of quickly putting into action the $25 million BP gave to the state to promote tourism. “We need to launch an advertising campaign that targets both Floridians and potential visitors to Florida.”
Meanwhile, staff reported that the FWC is ready to act should oil in any form move into Florida waters.
Mark Robson, director of the FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management, said the FWC will close fisheries only if there are clear and compelling reasons. The FWC will close only the smallest area needed and reopen areas as quickly as possible. Commissioners gave Robson the green light to that approach.
Col. Jim Brown, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement, assured the Commission by stating, “The division is experienced in emergency response. The governor has declared a State of Emergency from Escambia County down to Sarasota County, and FWC teams are prepared to assist if oil comes ashore.”
Gil McRae, director of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) in St. Petersburg, said FWRI uses digital maps that pinpoint areas important for wildlife. These maps guide response efforts.
Oil spill response partners are conducting observation flights to monitor fish and wildlife and to help identify the changing oil boundary.
FWC experts are imbedded in all Unified Command Centers around the Gulf.
Because of the impact to red snapper season, the FWC is working with NOAA to collect data to redouble sampling efforts of recreational species – a major priority for the FWC. Commissioner Brian Yablonski said if the FWC and NOAA can establish that the fishing effort is much lower than normal, the FWC may be able to consider a supplemental season.
For the latest updates on the oil spill and Florida’s response, go to MyFWC.com/OilSpill or www.dep.state.fl.us/deepwaterhorizon. These sites contain information on where and how to report oiled wildlife or shorelines, provide information on volunteer opportunities and link to the Florida Emergency Operations Center daily reports.