NEW ORLEANS–As 200,000 gallons of crude oil continue to flow unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, government officials, seafood industry groups, and food safety experts are working to assure the public that seafood coming from the Gulf is safe for consumption.
Sunday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) closed a 6,800 square mile section of the Gulf to recreational and commercial fishing to keep potentially unsafe, petroleum-contaminated seafood out of the food supply, but there is palpable concern in the fishing industry that consumers will think harvested seafood from the region is unsafe.
“We will definitely not want to be anywhere near any type of oil spill to harvest any shrimp, if they were even in that area,” one experienced shrimper based in Chalmette, Lousiana told Food Safety News yesterday.
“This is a wonderful resource, this is a wonderful product, I always tout that we have the best tasting shrimp in the world,” he added. “I certainly wouldn’t take any chance in ruining that reputation.”
“It’s not going to be an issue–nothing is going to be harvested in an area that has any chance of oil contamination. You can feel assured that anything coming in is safe. The whole west side of the [Mississippi River] is not affected at all right now.”
It’s a point that seafood stakeholders are driving home: that any seafood coming from the Gulf will come from waters unaffected by the oil spill.
“The Louisiana Coastline is expansive, more than 300 miles long, and provides Louisiana fishermen an abundance of clean water areas in which to fish,” the Louisiana Restaurant Association said in a statement this week. “According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ biologists, 77 percent of our seafood production comes from the west side of the Mississippi River, which is not in the impacted area.”
The remaining 23 percent of the state’s seafood comes from the east side, which is already being affected, and is projected to take the brunt of the impact. “Fishermen and suppliers are confident that there will not be an interruption in the state or nation’s ability to get quality Louisiana seafood,” according to the restaurant group.
According to Dr. Jim Diaz, head of environmental and occupational health sciences at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health, “[I]f the seafood smells like gasoline, if it smells like petroleum, then consider it tainted and don’t eat it. If on the other hand it looks fresh, smells fresh, it tastes fresh, it’s probably okay. The seafood, we know depending on the species, has a great capacity either to avoid contamination or ultimately to cleanse itself.”
That capacity, as Diaz explains, is something fish have developed over time.
“Even before man started drilling for oil off shore, there were oil spills on land and there were oil leaks on the sea floor bed, so fish now have developed enzyme systems so they can metabolize the derivatives of petroleum,” he told a local news station Friday.
Not all species have the same capacity to avoid contamination, however. Fish will naturally swim away from polluted water, as will mobile shellfish, like crabs, but creatures like oysters are left at the mercy of their surrounding water.© Food Safety News