One year later, seafood sellers still suffering

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 27, 2011



LAPLACE – One year after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that caused the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S. and shut off fishing in several areas for months, some local seafood retailers say their businesses are still trying to recover from the disaster.

Whether it is uncertainty about the product or inflated prices because of supply limits, some seafood sellers say the market will never be the same as it was before the oil spill.

“Our prices are still pretty high compared to past years,” said Winston Doussan, manager of Just-N-Time Seafood in LaPlace. “It seems that the fisherman are not as aggressive as they once were and not fishing as hard. We are getting plenty supply, but the prices are not coming down.”

Doussan said the price for shrimp is anywhere from $2.75 to $6 a pound, and oysters are selling at $46 a gallon.

“It is certainly safe to consume, but people are reluctant to pay that much,” Doussan said. “We are definitely not doing the sales we once were.”

Meanwhile, there are some sellers who say consumers are still skeptical about the product and not willing to risk eating seafood from affected areas.

“I do think there could still be a lack of trust about what is coming from the Gulf,” said Ricky Vicknair of BRS Seafood in Reserve. “Perception is everything.”

Vicknair said he has had customers who are apprehensive about Gulf seafood, specifically oysters. He said the store is getting the supply, but it is not selling as well as in previous years.

“It has picked up from last year, but there are some who are still scared,” Vicknair said.

Despite the perceived reluctance, confidence in Gulf seafood among government officials is high. According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently ordered an emergency reopening of several commercial fishing areas near the Mississippi River Delta that were previously closed because of last year’s oil spill so fisherman can start to recover from the months of inactivity.

“While the effects of the oil spill will continue to affect our state for years to come, we are as confidant as ever in the safety of Louisiana’s seafood, the most-tested seafood in the world,” said LDWF Secretary Robert Barham. “I am happy to report that over 99 percent of Louisiana’s waters are open to fishing.”

The opening was allowed following the completion of comprehensive testing, after which the FDA advised that shrimp, crab and finfish tissue samples tested from these previously closed areas are safe for consumption. The state is still negotiating a more permanent long-term plan for seafood testing, with more than $400 million available for implementation of the program.

The LDWF and the Department of Health and Hospitals have tested more than 1,000 seafood samples for contamination by the oil spill since May 2010. According to Wildlife and Fisheries officials, all of the tested samples have been deemed safe for consumption.

Samples often include more than one specimen, so a single shrimp sample could include 100 individual shrimp that are ground into a composite paste and sampled. This sampling method provides a more complete picture of the health of Louisiana’s seafood, according to LDWF.