Oil spill has seafood supply in jeopardy

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 8, 2010



LAPLACE – As oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion site continues to creep closer to Louisiana’s coastline, local seafood retailers continue to speculate about the potentially devastating future of the shrimp, crab and oyster industries.

Aggressive fishermen have spent the past week harvesting as much seafood as possible before state and federal officials begin closing off popular fishing spots along the coast, and many retailers are continuing to get fresh supplies — they just don’t know how long it will last.

“There is just so much uncertainty right now,” said Winston Doussan, manager at Just-N-Time Seafood in LaPlace. “The closer the oil gets, the more it will affect ecosystems and the more it will deplete seafood populations.”

Doussan said sales of shrimp, crabs and oysters have all stayed steady, but prices have seen a sharp spike in the past week. He foresees a hard time competing with other markets in the future.

“Right now shrimp have gone up 50 cents and crabs and oysters are up by more than a dollar,” Doussan said. “Out of state markets are paying an even higher price, so if harvests become more depleted, we won’t be able to compete because local customers just won’t be able to afford it.”

Ricky Vicknair of BRS Seafood in Reserve said his shipments have still been plentiful, but he added that it’s only a matter of time before he begins to see a decline.

“Our suppliers have had to deal with lots of uncertainty and little consistency with the opening, closing and reopening of certain fishing zones,” Vicknair said.

“Our supply is still here now and our prices are still reasonable, but we know that they are going to go up. The closer the oil gets, the worse it will be.”

This week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began restricting commercial and recreational fishing along the Gulf Coast, an area that spans about 6,800 miles. Louisiana has also started to close areas designated for special shrimping.

According to NOAA figures from 2008, about 40 percent of the nation’s commercial seafood harvests come from the Gulf Coast and the industry annually reels in more than $2.4 billion for the state.

Vicknair said he is particularly concerned about the oyster population, which he said will be “devastated” by the lasting affects of the spill.

“They feed off of the floor of the gulf,” said Vicknair. “They already have no where to go, so once this oil creeps closer it will further choke things off. Harvests will take years to recover.”

Both Vicknair and Doussan said current supplies are not contaminated and certainly safe to eat. They encourage seafood lovers to get what they can while they can get it.

“There has been no hesitation from our customers,” Doussan said. “I think they understand that once the supply is gone, it may be gone for a while.”