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Earliest you can fish off the coast? Officials say late November

Just stay afloat.

That’s what Terese Pearson and her family – who run the fish shack Pearson’s Port in the Newport Back Bay – are trying to do as fishing off the local coast, they’re main source of business, remains shut down following the oil spill off Huntington Beach early last month.

Officials on Thursday, Nov. 4, said the earliest fishing will open to the public is late November because the latest round of sampling last week and this week is now being tested and the process of announcing a decision takes time.

OC Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau, also the county health officer, sent out a notice Thursday reminding the public to “refrain from consuming contaminated fish or seafood from affected beaches until state officials lift the fisheries closure declaration and complete offshore sampling of seafood safety.”

The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has to analyze the results from the recent sampling efforts, “develop a risk assessment for seafood safety,” and make its recommendation to the California Department of Wildlife to determine whether the fisheries closure can be lifted, county officials said.

The latest date is two weeks later than businesses that use local fisheries had hoped, many wanting to be open by mid-November and before the Thanksgiving holiday. With the closures extended, they can forget about the Thanksgiving crowd who prefer lobster over turkey.

“On the news, they keep talking about the lack of turkeys. We would sell a lot more lobster in lieu of the lack of fresh turkeys,” Pearson said. “But we can’t sell what we can’t have.”

For Pearson, the reopening can’t come soon enough.

“We are hanging on by a thread,” she said, noting that business last week was down 90% from her usual sales this time of year. “We don’t want to close, we want to stay open. It’s hard to get people back.”

According to Allan Hirsch, spokesman for the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, several hundred mussels were collected from onshore locations in the closure area.

“Additionally, more than 350 finfish and other invertebrates were collected from offshore locations throughout the closure area,” he wrote in an email. “This included more than 20 species, which were selected based on their potential for exposure to and/or accumulation of oil, their importance to commercial, recreational and subsistence fishers, and their representation of different feeding ecologies and habitat types within the closure zone.”

The first results were received by OEHHA on Nov. 2, with more results to follow over the next several weeks, he said.

“Results will be released when all samples have been analyzed and the risk assessment has been completed,” he said. “We cannot reach any conclusions based only on the first batch of results.”

“The time needed to analyze laboratory samples is difficult to predict,” he said. “The original estimate of the timeline was based on expedited laboratory turnaround times in prior spills. The current expedited turnaround time is longer.”

Donna Kalez, manager of Dana Wharf Sportsfishing, wonders if local waters would have even been closed had the later estimates of 24,000 gallons leaked been determined in the early days of the spill, when it was speculated that up to 131,000 gallons had escaped from the pipeline.

“I’m just disappointed in the process,” Kalez said. “They have to use all these agencies and I knew it was going to be a long, long process.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

She had told her customers they would be able to fish in local waters by Nov. 15, the original estimated date of reopening, she said.

“The thing that frustrates us the most, we did the process and we were really hanging our hats on Nov. 15. It’s just delays,” she said.

While she’s able to still take anglers outside of the closures zone, many of her older clients – some who are regulars coming for 30 years – can’t handle the longer boat rides.

“People are used to getting their lines in the water quickly, not an hour down the coast,” she said. “That’s the difference, we are known for our local fishing. It’s really impactful to my regulars. They won’t come. They are super upset.”

Many don’t understand the ocean being closed still while people are able to surf and swim off the coast, she said. “The beach is open, the water is open. If you can put your baby in the water, why can’t you fish?”

Based on water and sediment data received from samples collected last month, there continues to be no public health concern for short-term exposures from the use of beaches, county official said in Thursday’s update.

Kalez also wonders why the water here is shut down, but not off San Diego’s coast, where tar was washing up as the slick moved south. “Why is Oceanside’s lobster OK?”

Hirsch said a 24,000 gallon oil spill in a coastal environment is a “significant spill that would merit a fisheries closure in almost any circumstance.”

“Early estimates of spill volume are often revised.  Estimated spill volume is only one factor used to determine the need for, and extent of, a fisheries closure,” he said. “Most important are observations of oil on the water obtained from satellites and planes, which are used to inform projections of where the oil is likely to spread.  The closure reflected the extensive spread of oil.”

Pearson posted on social media this week about the hope to be open by early December, in time for holiday orders. She still plans to make ornaments for her locals, as she does every year.

“We are doing the best that we can and we are looking forward to opening up,” she said. “If we lose our holiday business it is going to be dramatic.”

Source: Orange County Register

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