Seafood testing begins when there's no longer visible oil in a particular area. First, inspectors smell samples for oil. Then comes testing at federal or state laboratories. To reopen seafood harvesting, the samples must test below Food and Drug Administration-set levels of concern for 12 different potential cancer-causing substances. BP also used chemical dispersants to break up the crude, but the government has not yet developed a test for the materials in seafood.
Shrimpers also are concerned about how much they'll be able to make on their product.
"I don't think people are worried so much about the resource, but the price," said Rusty Gaude, fishery agent for LSU Sea Grant Program.
And fishermen need to know what waters are open.
Slowly, more and more waters closed because of the spill are reopening. However, shrimping remains forbidden in federal waters off Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and most of the catches have come off Texas and Florida, said Roy Crabtree, the regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service's southeast region.
Commercial shrimpers are heading out as the drilling of a relief well meant to plug BP's runaway well permanently nears completion.
Once the relief well is complete, a so-called bottom kill procedure can begin, in which mud and cement would plug the well from below the seafloor.
Engineer John Wright has never missed his target over the years, successfully drilling 40 relief wells that were used to plug leaks around the world. People along the Gulf Coast and others are hoping he can make it 41-for-41.
"Anyone who has ever worked extremely hard on a long project wants to see it successfully finished, as long as it serves its intended purpose," Wright, 56, who is leading the team drilling the primary relief well, said in a lengthy e-mail exchange with The Associated Press.
BP began work on its primary relief well in early May. But about two weeks ago, around the time the company had done a successful static kill pumpingmud and cement into the top of the well, executives and the government began signaling that the bottom kill procedure might not be needed.
But retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the spill, said the relief well would be finished so the well could be killed. The bottom kill won't be started until at least next weekend.
Despite the waters reopening, many fishermen distrust state wildlife officials and may be reluctant to head out right away, said Patrick Hue, 49, a shrimper out of Buras.
"Nobody wants to rush into this and then someone gets sick on the seafood and the first thing you know, no one wants to buy our seafood," he said.
Seafood dealer Pearce, however, said many shrimpers will be unable to resist.
"Opening day is like a religion to these people," he said. "It's a way of life down here."