THIBODAUX, La. — The massive Gulf Coast oil spill caused by the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig could have a significant impact on the price and supply of oysters and crabs, industry experts say. Still, they remain optimistic about the safety and quality of Louisiana seafood that has not been affected by the spill, and hope for containment of the slicks.
“The two categories of Louisiana seafood that will greatly be affected will be the oyster and crab industry,” Donald Rouse, president of Rouses Supermarkets here, told SN.
“With 50% of the oyster beds and 70% of the crab industry being fished and harvested east of the Mississippi, this could possibly be catastrophic to those two categories as far as pricing and supply if the oil is not contained and reaches the estuaries and oyster beds.”
Early last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees federal fisheries issues, restricted fishing for a minimum of 10 days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida's Pensacola Bay.
Ashley Roth, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said that as long as the waters west of Mississippi River can be kept open, price increases should be minimal.
According to a published report, Rebecca Jarvis, a CBS News business and economics correspondent, said that oyster prices are up about $2.50 per gallon, and crab meat has gone up a dollar already.
“Shrimp hasn't gone up in price, but Louisiana is a huge area for the shrimp industry. Right now, the western Mississippi portion is where most of the shrimp comes from. What has been shut down as a result of this spill is the eastern Mississippi portion. So, if we see a shutdown that's larger, we can see some impact there, too,” Jarvis said in the CBS report.
Both Rouses Supermarkets and the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board support the NOAA's decision to halt fishing in the worst-hit areas.
“Currently, only 23% of the harvesting areas in Louisiana have been closed as a precaution,” Roth said. “The LSPMB supports this decision. We want everyone to know that only the freshest and highest-quality product will come from Louisiana waters.”
Rouse agreed, saying that closing the affected waters to fishing for at least the 10 days was a wise move, both in terms of safety, and in terms of improving consumer confidence in the quality of Gulf Coast seafood already in the marketplace.
“Rouses believes that this is the best possible way to ensure that no seafood that is in question is processed and served at any retailers or restaurants,” he said.
“We have our own precautionary methods to ensure that products are safe for our consumers at Rouses and think that with the government stepping in this adds one more level of confidence within the communities of Louisiana, the United States and around the world where we are known for our high-quality seafood.”
Maintaining consumer confidence in Louisiana seafood coming from the affected areas is indeed a concern to those in the industry.
“Fortunately, 77% of Louisiana's total seafood production is fished out of the west side of the Mississippi all the way to Port Arthur, Texas; these waters are unaffected by the spill and remain open,” Rouse said.
“This will help the consumers' confidence along with the fact that Rouses has built the confidence in so many consumers over the years with serving a premium seafood product.”
Roth also noted that any areas that could be potentially harmful have been closed to harvesting, and those areas are restricted to east of the Mississippi River.
Rouses launched advertisements to assure its shoppers that the seafood it offers is safe, and that the company will continue to ensure that all products have been secured and checked before leaving fishermen's boats.
“We also have the traceability of all products that allows us to know exactly which zones and areas our product has been caught in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
The retailer's seafood sales have doubled within the last week, with shoppers facing the scare of seafood possibly being tainted and unavailable in the future, Rouse told SN.
“We have already begun to secure product and will continue to secure product as we progress into the unknown future,” Rouse said. “Rouses has always committed to the best-quality product in the past and will continue to do so in the future … As long as oil does not come to the west of the Mississippi river, we will be able to continue to serve and enjoy what all of Louisiana enjoys and that's our local Louisiana seafood.”
LSPMB said it is urging seafood consumers around the country to help the Louisiana fishermen by asking for Louisiana seafood.
“The best thing you can do for them is ask for their products, especially during this time,” Roth said.