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Gulf Seafood’s Future Remains Unknown

Maybe now if the Gulf seafood industry could just see over the horizon, it would be comforted just by knowing what’s really ahead.   Instead, in the 79 days since the Deepwater Horizon blew up, safe seafood from the Gulf remains an elusive possibility, but that’s about it.

That became even more apparent Tuesday when tar balls were found floating right next to New Orleans in Lake Pontchartrain.  Churning wind and waves were responsible.

Oil has now washed up on the beaches of all five Gulf states from Texas to Florida and an estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day continue to gush from the sea floor.

The areas closed to fishing, up to 95 percent of state waters and 34 percent of the U.S. economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico, are said to be there to protect both consumers and the seafood industry.

The federal closure area peaked on June 21 when it represented almost 36 percent of the Gulf economic zone.

Over the long 4th of July weekend, the closed federal waters again expanded  to 81,181 square miles, an area roughly the same size as the State of Kansas.  The expand closure zone came after the first hurricane of the season (Alex) churned up Gulf waters before making landfall in Mexico.

Not being able to see what’s ahead does not mean there are plenty of developments that will impact the future availability and safety of Gulf seafood.  Some of these include:

Food Chain–Droplets of oil were found inside the larvae of blue crabs and fiddler crabs by University of Southern Mississippi and Tulane University scientists.  Oil in the Gulf seafood chain is news of the worst kind because it puts hydrocarbons in the food chain.  The findings caught state fisheries officials off guard.

Bacteria Threat–In case anyone forgot in all the excitement over the BP oil spill, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reminded  consumers that during warm summer months the biggest threat that comes with the consumption of Gulf oysters is that good old stand-by, Vibrio vulnificus bacteria.

Ingredients Lost–New Orleans Chefs are warning the loss of Gulf seafood means the loss of Cajun Cuisine.  One study shows 240 “place-based” foods that might be lost as it takes various kinds of fish and vegetables to make many Cajun and Creole dishes.

Po-boys Off the Menu–Rising prices and limited supply for oysters and finish are forcing local restaurants to drop one of their menu staples–the Po-boy.

That’s their story–Both when the President last visited and more recently when Vice President Joe Biden made a swing through the Gulf states, the White House pitched the collaboration among state and federal agencies to keep Gulf seafood safe to eat.  For as often as they’ve trumpeted the work, yet little factual data has come out of the agencies responding for food safety, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

State Closures–Louisiana announced closures to recreational and commercial fishing in portions of Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes that went into effect Monday.

The portion of the state inside waters east of the Mississippi River north of the eastern shore of Main Pass and south of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet from the double rig link westward to the eastern shore of the Mississippi River and north along 89 degrees 42 minutes 32 seconds west longitude near the western shore of twin pipeline canals.

The closures were called “precautionary.”  Louisiana will conduct seafood testing in the area.

Mississippi has banned all commercial and recreational fishing, including all species of finfish, crabs, shrimp, and oysters off most of its coastline.

Alabama’s state waters outside Mobile Bay are open only to recreational catch and release fishing.

Florida’s state waters are closed off Escambia County.   All other Florida waters remain open.

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