State responds to report alleging misspending of BP money for fish testing

State responds to report alleging misspending of BP money for fish testing

KENNER, LA (WVUE) - The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is now reviewing a draft report by the Louisiana legislative auditor which blasts it for misspending money intended to test seafood after the BP spill.

The report says the department spent oil spill recovery money on things like cameras, iPads and boats instead of testing fish. It also alleges that some samples sat for weeks before testing.

The quality of Louisiana seafood was a major concern immediately after the BP oil spill, and the seafood industry felt the impact.

"We had a huge problem with perception after the spill," said veteran seafood dealer Harlon Pearce with LA Fish.

Seafood sales dropped, and the industry went to great pains in a bid to ensure the fish weren't contaminated.

"We closed a lot of areas ahead of time just to be sure," Pearce said.

But six months after the spill there were reports of tainted seafood.

"In the oysters we collected there were up to 8,000 to 12,000  parts per million oil range organics, and they were not visibly oiled oysters," said microbiologist Wilma Subra, speaking to FOX 8 in February of 2011.

At the time state fisheries officials vouched for the catch.

"What we've seen are low base levels. All seafood has natural levels," said Randy Pausina with the LDWF.

But a new draft report from the legislative auditor obtained by the Associated Press calls into question state tests. The report says the LDWF misspent a portion of $10.5 million BP provided for a seafood safety program, alleging that money intended for testing was spent on unnecessary items.

"It always concerns you when people say money was spent wrong. That concerns me," said Pearce.

He said he never saw any bad seafood. In fact, six years after the spill, his Kenner fish house has added 10,000 square feet to ship Louisiana seafood to half the U.S.

"We probably added two million pounds a year since the expansion," Pearce said.

The draft report says the LDWF engaged in insufficient sampling after the spill, but Pearce said from his perspective, that wasn't the case. While he couldn't comment on  the quality of the tests, he said between the state and the Food and Drug Administration, he remembers more sampling of seafood than normal.

The LSWF issued a statement saying it can't discuss the report in its draft stage, but they pledge they will cooperate with the legislative auditor.

At one point during the spill about one-third of the Gulf was closed to fishing.

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