As Oil Continues to Spill, Locals Snatch Up Seafood



As a massive, growing oil spill threatens to crush the Gulf seafood industry, Louisiana locals are snatching up fresh, locally-harvested shrimp in droves.

The Crescent City Farmer’s Market in uptown New Orleans was out of seafood by 11 a.m. Tuesday. FOX News reported that Gulf seafood markets as far as Florida were selling four times more seafood than usual.

“I have no more seafood, sorry!” Clara Gerica, a vendor at the three-times-a-week New Orleans farmers market told a disappointed customer. “Come back Thursday or Saturday, I’ll set some aside for ya.”

“Today was extremely busy. I haven’t had a day like this since before Katrina,” explains Gerica, whose family is still rebuilding their house and three boats, all casualties of the hurricane.

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From the minute the market opened, locals were lined up to secure their seafood. “People are afraid they aren’t going to be able to get it,” notes Gerica, adding that she is not worried about the local supply. “[The oil spill] will slow me down on crab meat, but everything else should be fine.”

“Unless something drastic happens,” she says, the rich fishing waters west of the Mississippi will likely be spared from oil contamination.

The hope that New Orleans will be able to keep a steady supply of fresh, local seafood is based on two assumptions: that the weather will continue to push the oil east and that BP will be able to stop the flow of oil in the next few days.

If the west side of Louisiana is spared from the “oilpocalypse,” it will be heavily relied upon to help fishermen keep up with demand, much of which is local.

As well-known New Orleans chef and local foodie John Besh wrote last week in The Atlantic, “We will have a supply of seafood, but that supply will be affected. In the short term our supplies will be cut in half–and that’s if we’re lucky. In the long term I’m afraid for the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Texas, the Florida panhandle.”

“This is much more than about birds,” wrote Besh. “It’s about a culture, an economy, the livelihood of thousands and thousands of people–and wetlands that have been the most concentrated source of seafood production for our entire country.”

The Gulf oil spill and our plate

Around 40 percent of our domestic seafood comes from the Gulf of Mexico. The seafood industry there is not only economically important for the region–bringing in around $2.4 billion annually–but it’s also important for those of us who like to know where our food comes from.

Just look at shrimp, America’s most popular seafood.

Over 90 percent of shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported, mostly from Asia, the largest portion coming from China. Much of that is wild caught by trawling–a practice that has some environmentalists concerned, as it that harms the ocean floor and often kills other sea life, like turtles. But a growing portion of the shrimp on our plates is actually from aquaculture farms, which bring a whole host of other problems ranging from the destruction of mangrove forests to unregulated antibiotic use.

As Ray Brandhurst, an inspiring Chalette, Louisiana shrimper, who’s family has been shrimping since the 1700s, told me this week, “Unfortunately these imports are coming in here unchecked. In most of the European countries they wont allow this stuff to come in, but it comes into the U.S. unabated.”

Imported shrimp should be avoided altogether, if you follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guide.

“Our shrimp in the Gulf is antibiotic-free. We aren’t destroying mangrove forests,” says Ray.

Unfortunately the future supply of Gulf seafood continues to be threatened by a lake of carcinogenic oil the size of Delaware.

Adapted from an article originally published on Food Safety News, reported from New Orleans, LA.

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  1. Friday, May 7th, 2010
    I love the Crescent City Farmers Market and the seafood vendors there. Its such a shame about the oil spill. I grew up in New England, moved to New Orleans for 8 years, and now live in NYC. Gulf seafood is by far the best!!!