Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Gulf Oyster Season Opening Is Gloomy

Negative public perception and a predicted decline in Gulf wildlife's reproductivity do not bode well for the American seafood industry.

Oysters

Photo: Glen MacLarty (flickr)

The Gulf oyster industry struggles against negative public perception and other consequences of the 2010 BP oil spill.

Oyster season opened on Monday under the shadow of the BP oil spill.

Although the political drama continues to unfold with new twists and turns, recent noise about the clean up has been relatively quiet. Fish from the region have been tested as free of contaminants and White House-sponsored events have promoted the Gulf’s seafood.

However, with sales down 62 percent this year, the oil spill has already hurt the seafood industry and several factors may slow future sales of oysters, shrimp, and fish from the gulf.

There is a widespread wariness about the food, and it will be difficult to convince the general public about the seafood’s safety while images of millions of gallons of oil pumping relentlessly into the water still play in the American collective conscious.

When the oyster season opened on Monday, only half as many trucks as normal waited at the docks. Large buyers are tentative to invest in the food, such as Supreme Lobster and Seafood Company, an Illinois-based distributor that sells to Las Vegas. Their insurance carriers advised them to keep Gulf oysters out of stock because the hotels that Supreme Lobster and Seafood Company sell to are worried that customers may sue over claims of oiled oysters.

Also, while adult fish have been able to survive the spill, it is unclear how the pollutants have affected the wildlife’s ability to reproduce. Studies completed during the Intox I well blowout in 1979 show that wildlife reproduction levels were lower after that spill, and scientists fear that the effect on the gulf will be the same.

The clean up effort continues, but the spectacle is full of finger-pointing, wolf-crying, good intentions, and enough drama to fuel public perceptions of gulf seafood.

Streaks of brown, oily smelling water were tested clean; five million barrels of oils have apparently been eaten by bacteria; the Coast Guard reports that 520 miles of the 580 miles of affected shoreline are rid of “heavy oil effects;” and depression has set in while fisherman and other gulf residents wade through the claims paperwork.

A lot of work has been done to clean the area and help the wildlife, but as the dismal opening of the gulf oyster season shows, the spill recovery is not over yet.

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Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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