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Louisiana Shrimp Season Opens Amid Oil Spill Concern

Shrimpers returned to the waters off Louisiana Monday at the start of the state's first shrimping season since the BP oil disaster spilled millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

The shrimping season began amid concern over oil that may still be in the water. Some Americans have been reluctant to buy seafood from the Gulf, fearing it may have been contaminated following the April disaster.

Louisiana is the top U.S. shrimp producer. The more than 45 million kilograms caught in 2009 were worth $118 million.

In a related development, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was visiting the Gulf Coast state Monday to have lunch with fishermen and meet with industry officials to discuss their concerns.

Meanwhile, BP said Monday that it is providing $52 million in funding for health groups dealing with stress and depression in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which have been hit by the disaster.

The president of BP America, Lamar McKay, says the company is providing this assistance now to help make sure individuals who need help know where to turn.

Louisiana reopened a portion of its coastal commercial fishing areas on Saturday, but restrictions imposed by state and federal authorities remain in effect in many areas, particularly east of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says a low pressure system over the southeastern United States is moving toward the Gulf of Mexico and has a 60 percent chance of strengthening into a tropical storm within two days. The result could be heavy rainfall and strong gusty winds along the central Gulf coast.

National Incident Commander Thad Allen, who is leading the government's response to the oil spill, says BP will complete work on a relief well designed to permanently seal the oil well after a round of testing and planning.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig leased by BP exploded and sank in April, killing 11 people, rupturing the well and polluting the region's waters and much of the Gulf Coast shoreline.

The oil leak was stopped with a temporary cap in mid-July, and two weeks ago mud and cement were piped into the top of the well in a procedure known as a "static kill."

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.