California lifts fishing ban after Huntington Beach oil spill, but fishermen say stigma still lingers

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California oil spill

California on Tuesday lifted a fishing ban that was implemented after an oil spill in Huntington Beach spread up and down the south coast, sparking fears of a major environmental disaster. 

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife lifted the ban at 11:59 a.m. Tuesday and allowed fishing to resume midday. 

This aerial photo taken with a drone, shows beachgoers as workers in protective suits continue to clean the contaminated beach in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Oct. 11, 2021.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

The oil spill, first reported on Oct. 2, was blamed on a leak about 5 miles off the coast in a pipeline owned by Houston-based Amplify Energy that shuttles crude from offshore oil platforms to the coast. 

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The cause is under investigation, but federal officials have said the pipeline was likely initially damaged by a ship’s anchor. 

A warning sign is displayed as workers in protective suits clean the contaminated beach after an oil spill in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

An estimated 126,000 gallons of heavy crude leaked into waters off Orange County. The subsequent closure covered 650 square miles of coastal waters and approximately 45 miles of shoreline. 

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Beaches were closed about a week before reopening for surfing and swimming. Fishing took longer to resume because environmental health experts said fish in spill zones can ingest oil, which contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that can cause cancer in people if eaten in certain quantities.

The decision to lift the ban on fishing came after testing to ensure the fish along the coast were safe for human consumption. 

Birds are seen as workers in protective suits clean the contaminated beach after an oil spill in Newport Beach, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.  (AP)

The weeks-long closure dealt a blow to fishermen who said customers didn’t want to buy their catch, fearing it was contaminated, and walloped charter operators who run fishing trips off the Southern California coast. 

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Some have joined lawsuits against Amplify and say their biggest fear is that the spill’s stigma will drive away tourists even after the oily tar that washed up on the beaches is long gone.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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