Fisherman Matt Liso unloads sheepshead caught near the Santa Barbara Channel Islands on Tuesday. The nearby fishery closure enacted after the Refugio oil spill was lifted this week, opening fishing areas along the shoreline for the first time after the crude oil spill contaminated waters off the Gaviota Coast on May 19. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Fishing areas have reopened along the Santa Barbara County coastline for the first time in six weeks, since the May 19 oil spill off of Refugio State Beach prompted the closure prohibiting commercial and recreational fishing and shellfish take between Gaviota State Park and Coal Oil Point in Goleta.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife lifted the fishing closure Monday, effectively reopening coastal waters used by many fisherman to catch spiny lobster, rockfish, shellfish and more.

The reopening comes after the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment stated there is no longer a human health threat present in finfish and shellfish from oil chemicals in the Refugio Beach Oil Spill incident.

“Fishing may resume in the 138-square-mile area from Canada de Alegeria at the western edge to Coal Oil Point at the eastern edge in accordance with state and federal ocean fishing regulations,” a statement from Unified Command said Tuesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard lifted the marine safety exclusion zone on June 19, the statement said.

Down at the Santa Barbara Harbor, fisherman Matt Liso was working to unload large black and red striped sheepshead fish into a bin for buyers. Liso’s crew had caught the fish near the western end of Santa Cruz Island and does not fish in the areas that had been closed.  

Many of the boats owned by nearshore fisherman were docked and vacant at the harbor on Tuesday afternoon and it was unclear if any had been out that day.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Santa Barbara Harbormaster Mick Kronman said he’d only spoken with one fisherman who was headed out to the reopened fisheries. Kronman wasn’t aware of exactly what business impacts fishermen had felt since the closure.

At least one lawsuit has been filed against the company responsible for the crude oil spill, Plains All American Pipeline, by a local fisherman for business losses he’s sustained in the time that he was unable to fish in those coastal waters.

Sea urchin diver and nearshore fisherman Stace Cheverez filed a class action lawsuit last month, stating that the fishery closures where Cheverez fished for rockfish had caused him losses, and that the spill “translated to profound economic impacts.”

Plains is still operating a claims phone hotline for anyone with personal or business losses due to the oil spill and can be reached at 866.753.3619.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.