U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Monday declared a fishery disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because of the economic impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on fisheries in the region.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has closed nearly 20 percent of the commercial and recreational fisheries in the area because of the spill, and Locke's declaration will allow the federal government to put additional resources into the Gulf states to soften the blow.
"The disaster determination will help ensure that the federal government is in a position to mobilize the full range of assistance that fishermen and fishing communities may need," Locke said in a statement accompanying the declaration.
Fishing is a $2.4 billion industry in the Gulf states. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour requested the declaration, "based on the loss of access to many commercial fisheries and the existing and anticipated environmental damage from this unprecedented event," the statement said.
"We stand with America's fishermen, their families and businesses in impacted coastal communities during this challenging time," Locke said. "Commercial and recreational fishing provides vital jobs to the region and is essential to the Gulf Coast's unique culture and heritage."
The Commerce Department said the Obama administration has asked for about $20 million so far to offset the costs of the spill's impact. But the statement reiterated that oil company BP, whose ruptured undersea well off Louisiana is the source of the spill, "and any other responsible parties" will have to pay to clean up the region and make good on any economic losses.