U.S. declares fishery disaster in 3 Gulf states

A clean-up worker is reflected in a pool of beached oil from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in Port Fourchon, Louisiana May 24, 2010. REUTERS/Lee Celano

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government has declared a “fishery disaster” in the seafood-producing states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama due to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, making them eligible for federal funds, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said on Monday.

“We are taking this action today because of the potentially significant economic hardship this spill may cause fishermen and the businesses and communities that depend on those fisheries,” Locke said in a statement.

“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,” he said.

Louisiana’s $2.4 billion seafood industry supplies up to 40 percent of U.S. seafood supply and employs over 27,000 people. The state is the second-biggest U.S. seafood harvester and the top provider of shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish.

The Commerce Department said the disaster declaration was made in response to requests from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.

The statement did not give any figures or say when funds would be dispersed.

Gulf of Mexico states have lost access to many commercial fisheries as a blown-out oil well spews hundreds of thousands of gallons (liters) of oil into the Gulf every day, a disaster that threatens to become the worst U.S. oil spill in history.

Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Eric Beech