An oil spill spanning over 3,000 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, left behind after an oil rig exploded and sank last week, is not threatening to compromise the safety of seafood from the water, according to experts.
“No one should be worrying about whether the shrimp they’re having for dinner is going to have oil on it,” Mike Voisin, the past president of the National Fisheries Institute, a nonprofit organization that tracks the fishing industry, told CNN earlier this week.
Forty percent of all fish harvested in the U.S. (excluding Hawaii and Alaska) comes from the Gulf of Mexico, which now contains an oil slick visible from space.
“First, no company wants to put that kind of product on the market,” Voisin said. “And those areas that have oil in them will be blocked by state health officials and not harvested.”
Those decisions will be left up to the Louisiana Department of Health, as well as officials in Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama who are monitoring the oil slick, which is now within 23 miles of the coast of Louisiana.
Voisin also explained that tuna and shrimp will instinctively migrate away from more polluted waters. Oysters, on the other hand, are more at risk because they can’t move on their own.
BP, the company that operated the rig, is sending remotely operating vehicles (ROVs) about 5,000 feet–or five Eiffel Towers–underwater to try and close the rig’s valves, which are currently spewing 42,000 gallons of oil per day.
The real threat to food safety, and to local ecosystems, will occur if the oil slick moves inland. If the oil flows into estuaries and oyster beds, it will deal a major blow to wildlife and the seafood industry.
“We’re very concerned,” John Tesvich, president of the Louisiana oyster dealers and growers association told a local news station. “This could be a major catastrophe. We’ve never had anything like this.”
“It’s virtually impossible to clean up in a short time period,” said Tesvich. “It goes in marsh land and in the grass, that cannot just be cleaned and changed. You would have impacts probably for a year or two, or more.”
Photo: The spreading Gulf of Mexico oil slick: April 25 , courtesy NASA (cropped).