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Gulf oil disaster and your diet


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Yesterday at the farmers market in New Orleans, the line for fresh shrimp was half a block long. Down here, a lot of us are convinced that the oil filling the Gulf will mean no local seafood for at least a year. (As a side note, we're still trying to figure out what to call this catastrophe. It's not exactly a spill, since the oil continues to flow unabated from the ocean floor.)

John Besh (August, Domenica), writing for the Atlantic website said supply is good at the moment, but things don't look good:

We haven't seen a decrease in supply yet, but next week we expect it, because of where the slick has moved: the port of Venice, Louisiana, where oil is starting to wash ashore, is a major hub of seafood in and out of the Gulf. We'll definitely see a break in supply. But what we're really worried about is all the microorganisms that rely on that marsh. The shrimp and the crabs feed off of those little microorganisms, and all of our other fisheries depend on them.

The seafood industry is trying to convince people, particularly tourists, that the current supply of shrimp, oysters and fish is safe to eat. Here is what the New York Times had to say about that:

Only six of the 32 oyster beds on the east side of the Mississippi River have been closed, and the oil is still 70 or 80 miles away, according to Mike Voisin, the Chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.

Those areas represent 30 to 40 percent of the state’s oyster production. Louisiana is the largest single-state producer of oysters in the world, producing about 250 million in-shell pounds of oysters a year, which is a little more than a third of the nation’s production, Mr. Voisin said.

Louisiana’s fishing industry generates about $3 billion a year, Mr. Pearce said, including recreational fishing. Depending on whether the oil slick continues to press past marshlands and where it makes landfall, , the financial implications could be devastating.

“Some of the real fears is that we’re in the reproductive cycle in the fisheries,” Mr. Voisin said. If the oil seeps into these areas, he said, “we could lose a year of a class of fish."

In that same article, Donald Link (Herbsaint, Cochon) offered a little optimism: “For the massive oil spill that it is, I don’t think that we’re looking at catastrophic effects on seafood."

At this point, I don't think anyone knows the impact will be. It's a complicated situation.

There is the environmental impact on the marine life and its habitat. Fisherman who can't work for a long period may have to leave the business. The oil could spread across the beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and even Florida, which could hurt the tourism industry and the restaurants there. Already, I've heard anecdotal reports of people canceling trips to New Orleans, because they don't want to come if there is no seafood.

One scientist I heard of the radio (didn't catch his specialty), suggested that the Gulf disaster could seriously harm the U.S. chicken industry. Most chicken, he said, eat fish meal, which comes from menhaden caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

Even if the damage is limited to Louisiana's coast, the fishing and oyster industry is so large here that the effects will be felt nationwide.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Brett Anderson, the restaurant writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, reported on the reaction of local restaurants and seafood supplier:

“We’ve got all the Jazz Fest customers in town,” said C.J. Gerdes, chef and owner of Casamento’s, the seafood restaurant and oyster bar. “They ask, ‘How are the oysters?’ I say, ‘They’re fine right now.’”

Gerdes and others in the local restaurant and seafood industry say it is too early to tell how the oil spill will affect their businesses. But all are beginning to take action to address a disaster that has garnered international media attention and is on the minds of everyone throughout the region.

“What we’re trying to communicate with people is that our seafood is safe,” said Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board. “Product will not go to market from (affected areas). That’s the bottom line.”

I wrote a short item for the Times Picayune on the comments of Poppy Tooker, a local cooking instructor, about the crisis during her gumbo demo at Jazz Fest:

"If I'd had a vision of the terrible thing that was happening," Tooker said, "I would have made seafood gumbo. This could be the last time for several years that we could have it."

For those of us who live here, she reminded us of the grim reality we face after the Jazz Festers go home. Our waters are filling with oil.

"All of my fisher buddies," she said, "are weeping. I keep getting this crying calls from grown men."

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Chris: No one particular source. The NYT has a lot of boots on the ground and an interactive map online. Kim Severson, a staffer for the NYT's food section, announced on Twitter that she would be here tomorrow morning.

The Times-Picayune, of course, is covering it well.

I'm getting a lot of links from local bloggers and Twitters. The most popular Twitter hashtags for this seem to be #oilspill and #gulf, so you could set up a search for those.

I've also got friends in the local environmental movement who have given me info.

As I run across stories about the impact on the food system, the fishing industry, and the regional restaurants, I'll post them in this thread.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Bob Marshall, the Times-Picayune's Pulitzer winning outdoors writers, looks at the impact on people who lead charter fishing trips:

The delta of the Mississippi River isn't a sandy tourist beach. It isn't a line of solid sand and rock on the other side of a highway that can be easily reached, cleaned and repaired with bulldozers and dump trucks. It is 70 wetland miles from the nearest road, and it isn't a coastline. The edge of this coast resembles the bottom of a broken jigsaw puzzle, hundreds of miles of zigs and zags, of odd-shaped pieces that don't fit together, of grass and mud, bayous, passes, bays, ponds and lagoons sprinkled with grassy islands.

That vast, uneven interface of water, grass and mud is the engine that drives the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the lower 48 states, one of the greatest coastal estuaries on the planet. The people who make their living and take their pleasure in that ecosystem know this; they know how important it is and how difficult it will be to find and remove millions of barrels of crude oil that might wash over it.

So they were terrified. And that terror was justified late Friday when the state closed all fishing -- recreational and commercial -- east of the Mississippi River, fearing contaminated seafood might be caught and consumed. The closure does not include lakes Borgne, St. Catherine and Pontchartrain, but does include the marshes around and south of Lake Borgne.

One ray of hope, at least for the economic survival of these and commercial fishermen, is that they may be able to make money from the clean-up operation. It also seems clear that BP is responsible for these loses. If it takes years for compensation to arrive, however, it may force the fishermen to give up and seek other work. That could devastate the fishing industry, I would think.

Edit: Another TP article on fishermen training to help in the cleanup.

And this TP article from several days ago explains how most fishing and oyster harvesting east of the Mississippi was shut down as a precaution.

Edited by TAPrice (log)

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Won't notice much around here...very rare to see shrimp etc. from there..only the reprehensible "farm raised "stuff" that comes from abroad..Have not had fresh shrimp for years,because of the imported, "stuff"...

Bud

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Honestly, it will probably not be a direct impact on me personally and my diet. We don't get much, if any, fresh Gulf Coast seafood here in SoCal, at least not in the mainstream markets. I do usually try to buy frozen shrimp that is from the Gulf Coast, but the package usually states the country of origin is Mexico. Dunno what, if any, impact those shrimp beds will have from this disaster.

That said, it is a larger, more profound impact on my psyche and my soul. The area potentially impacted by this disaster is one of the most ecologically fragile in the country, and yet the aquaculture is one of the most robust and prolific. It is heartbreaking to sit on the Left Coast and watch this beautiful, fruitful area be decimated. My heart breaks for the wildlife, but also for the shrimpers, and the oystermen and the people in Louisianna, and Mississippi and Florida that love to eat their bounty.

Edited by Pierogi (log)

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As a precaution, fishing was halted today from Louisiana to Florida. The New York Times says swordfish and tuna, along with charter boat fishing, will be most affected:

Citing public safety concerns, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration restricted fishing for at least 10 days in the affected waters, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Pensacola Bay in Florida. Scientists were taking samples of water and seafood to ensure food safety.

“We want to make sure that we can maintain the public confidence in the safety of the food supply and make sure that members of the public aren’t at risk,” said Roy Crabtree, the Southeast regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We’ll continue to look at this and evaluate this.”

Trawlers fishing for swordfish and tuna, and charter-boat operators, many of whom work out of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, are likely to feel the impact more than Louisiana fishermen, said Harlon Pearce, the chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board. He welcomed the restriction as a precautionary measure.

This article is not completely clear on the details, but as far as I know fishing and oyster harvesting continues west of the Mississippi, where there is still no oil. I've seen reports that if the oil continues to flow, it could make its way around Florida and up the Eastern seaboard.

Edited by TAPrice (log)

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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We eat probably three or four pounds of gulf shrimp each month....

I live in Alabama and we eat about 3 lbs/week in my household. I have friends in the shrimping industry and they are scared to death that this may be the end. The shrimp will eventually come back but all the shrimpers may be long since broke at that point.

I also eat a good bit of gulf grouper and scamp (the finest of all fish in my opinion). The supply of those is dodgy as it is. I can't imagine what kind of prices those fish will go to. I imagine we're going to be looking at north of Chilean Sea Bass prices before this thing is over.

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CNN quotes a Nature Conservancy scientist on the long-term impact on oysters:

Mike Beck, senior scientist on the global marine team for the Nature Conservancy, said there is a lot of concern for oyster reefs, which were also already suffering. Only 15 percent of the world's oyster reefs remain because of over-harvesting and dredging, he said, and hurricanes have also destroyed some reefs. He said there have been some oil spills in Europe that provide clues as to what might happen.

"What we have learned from other accidents is we've seen mortality and then we have seen lower growth rate," he said, "so that even if they're not killed, you are likely to have much lower [population] growth. We're not likely to be able to eat those oysters for quite some time because ... they hold heavy metals in their tissue."

He estimated that the damage to the reefs could last two to five years, but that other oil spills have shown that in some instances it can be longer than that.

The article also says that 40% of the nation's seafood comes the Gulf of Mexico.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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As I understand it, if the prevailing winds hold for a bit longer, the impact will continue to be restricted to EAST of the mouth of the river. We have lots of productive wetlands (think oyster reefs) and offshore fisheries (shrimp, etc) west of the mouth of the river. I think that the long term impact is uncertain at this point--the persistent high winds and wave action have dispersed much more of the surface oil than was initially projected.

Short term, it's the coastal fishing folks from the mouth of the MS river over to Pensacola who are immediately out of work. Some of them (large offshore trawlers) will almost certainly shift their fishing grounds west...it's the crabbers, oystermen, and inshore/nearshore shrimpers who are taking a huge financial hit.

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Working at a raw bar/seafood restaurant, we are watching this closely. There is probably enough Gulf Shrimp (which we use in one of our popular menu items) in fresh-frozen inventory for a short while, but when that runs out, we'll have to see what is available and perhaps take that item off the menu. When all the restaurants down south that normally serve Gulf oysters (we do not. Only East and West Coast varieties on our menu) have to start sourcing their oysters from the same places that we normally do, which is Virginia and northward to New Brunswick on the East coast and Northern California to British Colombia on the West coast, we'll see what effect that has on the supply and if prices jump accordingly as demand increases exponentially.

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  • 2 months later...

I shop at a local seafood market almost every weekend. Saturday, the place was jammed! Prior to Saturday, I've never waited on line that long except for New Year's Eve! I can't tell that their prices have risen (don't know about oysters). All their fish and shellfish, except for items like salmon and Northern lobsters, come out of Apalachiacola Bay.

I got a piece of scamp right after the fish cutter laid it on the ice. I paid $14.50 for a pound. That's the same price as gag grouper and hasn't risen of late. (This is the first time I've ever seen scamp! It usually all goes to the restaurants.) It was the BEST piece of fish I've ever put in my mouth. So far, our blessed Apalach has been spared the effects of this mess. I hope that continues!

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My guess is that the various gov'ts will claim that the fish, oyster, et al are "safe" to eat (those fish & shrimp that are still alive & around to be caught) but within a year or two additional research will indicate that isn't accurate. The existing dead zone will be enlarged for years. Offshore drilling in the GOM, in deep water, will continue, maybe after a 6 month hiatus. People will return to the Gulf for vacations, they will get used to oily beaches.

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  • 2 months later...

The argument against farmed imported shrimp and other seafood is that it's generally bad for the surrounding ocean. Lots of waste, etc. American farming is much cleaner, far better for the environment.

Here, the pollution isn't just bad -- it's carcinogenic -- and is being added to our domestic shrimp, not as waste from feed or the shrimp itself, and the government says it's safe, wholesome, great for the skin, does a body good.

Why don't they just flat out say America Good, Everyone Else Bad.

I don't mind going out of my way to avoid Gulf shrimp. Let Obama eat all he wants.

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