The Real Impact of the Gulf's Oil Spill

Articles
May 20, 2010

The Real Impact of the Gulf's Oil Spill

Ask just about anyone in the fish world and their immediate response is that the Gulf oil disaster will have little impact on the global seafood supply or on prices.

Ask just about anyone in the fish world and their immediate response is that the Gulf oil disaster will have little impact on the global seafood supply or on prices. 

Nevertheless, we are already seeing price hikes on shrimp and oysters and crab - even on those catches in our stores which were not sourced from the Gulf region. It's another example of how we could further diminish consumer trust and confidence towards our food supply. 

But there is a much larger and more important issue here. 

The seafood sales from the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico totaled $660 million in 2008, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. As of now, 10% of the fishable economic zone is closed - about 24,000 square miles. Due to the shifting winds, some oyster beds have reopened which is terrific news since about 70 percent of the oysters we use in the US come from this area, and we have already seen price increases of around 30 percent. (Note: Less than 3% of shrimp consumed in the U.S. comes from the region).

I spoke with Gavin Gibbons, the spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, who shared with me one of his most pressing concerns: the impact on the Gulf community. The fishermen, the shrimpers, the wholesalers, the restaurants and the families who over the past five years, starting with Hurricane Katrina, have had to scramble to make their livelihoods. Now, they are faced with this oil spill, which is threatening the survival of this industry. 

The closures of both the West and East waters of the Mississippi has brought Gulf supplies to a standstill and the families who depend on the Gulf region to make a living are in the same predicament.

I agree with Gibbons when he says that the shrimp, oysters and other seafood from the Gulf is iconic and has a distinct, and I would suggest, better flavor over many of the imports.

Which is why our retail food industry must support the Gulf region catches. When this situation is finally resolved, we must all work to promote Gulf seafood with vigor and work with our retail partners and the Louisiana Seafood Marketing Board to insure success. The reality is that we now sell and consume as much as the Gulf can supply, however, as imports fill the pipeline, I would like to think of those sources as temporary "place holders".