WWNO News Features
12:08 pm
Fri May 7, 2010

Seafood sellers wait and see with oil spill

New Orleans, LA – The oil leak in the gulf is already begun to impact louisiana's seafood industry. Local sellers report an uptick in business in the past week from customers who worry their next shrimp poboy could be their last for a while. But as the long-term effects of this spill remain unclear, some are wringing their hands while others are shrugging it off. Eric Eagan has the story.

>>
>> for those whose livelihoods depends on louisiana seafood, this is a
>> wait-and-see moment. so far oil from the deepwater horizon leak has
>> stayed mainly east of the mississippi river, where the state
>> department of wildlife and fisheries has restricted some fishing and
>> oyster harvesting.
>>
>> "that area represents around 20 percent of our production. if you look
>> at the western side, it's the other 80. so that 80 percent is out of
>> the harm's way at this point in time. that means all that seafood is
>> safe." (:12)
>>
>> that's ewell smith of the louisiana seafood promotion and marketing
>> board. he says the group cares about safety and supports current
>> fishing restrictions, but he was in washington d.c. yesterday asking
>> congressional delegates for help in assuring the public that seafood
>> from untouched areas is safe. he says negative perception could have a
>> disastrous effect on the state's seafood industry.
>>
>> "the worst thing that could happen to us is for the markets to
>> collapse on us. we saw that after katrina. so we're trying to make
>> sure the brand is, any damage to it is repaired, and we want to make
>> sure we keep it strong." (:16)
>>
>> the brand has taken beatings in the past, mostly from foreign imports,
>> which account for eighty percent of the seafood consumed in the united
>> states. smith says he's concerned louisiana could lose even more
>> market share to foreign suppliers if consumers believe our seafood
>> isn't safe.
>>
>> at this point scientists say it's difficult to tell what will happen
>> to our marine life as the oil slick shifts and spreads. quenton
>> dokken, a marine biologist with the non-profit gulf of mexico
>> foundation, says the effects vary by organism and habitat. oil can
>> break down in open water and be ingested by smaller creatures, getting
>> passed up through the food chain where it could be toxic...
>>
>> "if it gets on to the beaches it could affect the intertidal
>> organisms, uh, it can contaminate feeding areas, if it gets into the
>> oyster reefs, certainly you have a filter feeding bivalve there, and
>> it, uh, they would not be edible for a while, if they survived it."
>> (:19)
>>
>> dokken says many gulf species breed in estuaries and marshes, which
>> are especially vulnerable to oil intrusion, and their breeding cycles
>> might be affected. still, he says it's too soon to say how species in
>> our waters will be impacted, for how long, and whether they will be
>> safe to eat.
>>
>> at the open-air westwego seafood market, where dozens of small shops
>> sell seafood directly from coastal fishermen, the effects of the spill
>> are increased business and increased prices. the official inshore
>> shrimp season has not yet begun in louisiana, but seafood seller kim
>> palmisano says quick-frozen shrimp from deeper waters are more
>> expensive than they were a week ago.
>>
>> "the price has jumped up like, 40 or 50 cent a pound since the oil
>> spill. and i've noticed an affect on the customers, when they come in
>> they like in shock at the shrimp being so much higher." (:10)
>>
>> palmisano and other sellers say they aren't yet fretting about the
>> impact of the spill on business. mark fayard, who operates bozo's
>> restaurant in metairie says he isn't either, when i asked him to rate
>> his level of anxiety.
>>
>> "i don't know on a scale of 1 to 10 it's probably, right now, maybe a
>> 2 or 3, i'm not that worried about that at the moment, you know."
>> (:09)
>>
>> business has also been up at bozo's, fayard says, though some
>> customers at this 82-year-old institution have expressed concern about
>> the safety of his seafood, particularly oysters.
>>
>> "we have had some phone calls, which, i kinda laugh a little bit, they
>> call and ask "do you have oysters," yes we have them, "well are they
>> safe," yeah of course they're safe we're not going to serve them if
>> they're not. but they do call and ask. and when it gets to the point
>> where they're not safe, we're going to be shut down." (:21)
>>
>> fayard says few of his suppliers are from east of the river, where
>> fishing has been restricted, but he's watching closely for news that
>> oil could travel west. it's his biggest fear. he hesitates when
>> contemplating what widespread contamination for a prolonged period
>> would do to industry that is his life, and to the state he calls home.
>>
>> "if the worst case scenario happens, the entire culture of south
>> louisiana will change, bottom line. now you talk about anxiety, start
>> thinking about that stuff, that'll bring your anxiety up but that's,
>> that's what could happen." (:18)
>>
>> i'm eric eagan for wwno