Mississippi marine official sees quick return for coast

BILOXI — The state's top marine official says once BP's oil stops flowing things will be cleaned up in three to six months, that Mississippi's fish are "big, fat and happy" and that shrimp would be safe to eat now — the ban on catching them is based on bureaucracy, not health hazards.

Bill Walker, head of the state Department of Marine Resources, in a meeting with the Sun Herald on Friday said he’s felt and smelled the oily tar that’s washed ashore in Mississippi and joked, “I haven’t tasted it, but I might one day.” He said although the state’s waters are closed to fishing and beachgoers are advised to stay out of it, the material that’s washing ashore isn’t anything “too dangerous or toxic.”

Along with Gov. Haley Barbour, Walker has taken the stance that though the BP oil disaster is bad, its immediate and long-range ecological effects have been overblown by many experts and overhyped by the media.

Walker said after a recent report from scientists at the University of Southern Mississippi and Tulane University that oil appeared to be entering the Gulf food chain and could cause long-term problems, he sought more info, but was provided nothing that convinced him. He said scientists with his agency have tested shrimp, crab, fish and oysters in Mississippi waters and have yet to find a trace of oil in their meat.

“In my opinion, petroleum hydrocarbons are not a threat to the food chain,” Walker said. “I personally do not believe we will have long-term effects on our marine life.”

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