Lack of Demand Sinking Gulf Seafood Processors

Lack of Demand Sinking Gulf Seafood Processors

Food & Drink

Lack of Demand Sinking Gulf Seafood Processors

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In a crab processing plant in Irvington, Ala., on a recent afternoon, 25 gloved workers pulled meat and dislocated crab claws inside Southern Aire Seafood’s one-room picking area. Normally there would be around 70 workers scooping out the lump crab meat. But these are not normal times.

“It’s slowed way down,” Tony Lyons, Southern Aire’s owner, told USAToday. He says the plant’s revenue has plunged 95 percent since the start of the oil spill. Lyons went on to say that is uncertain whether the plant will still be open by the first of the year.

While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has hurt businesses all along the Gulf coast, from fishermen to restaurants to marinas and hotels, seafood processors like Southern Aire’s have been especially hard hit. As reported in the USAToday article, there are 195 seafood processors across the Gulf employing more than 9,000 workers and generating more than $1 billion in annual revenue, according to NOAA figures.

Seafood supply is down because fishermen who usually bring in the crab, shrimp and fish have been employed by BP in the oil spill cleanup operations, or haven’t been able to return to their fisheries because of the spill. And that is compounded by the fact that the processors’ usual customers—restaurants and supermarket chains–have turned to other sources, still hesitant to trust the safety of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. Lyons has had to resort to bringing in Virginia crabs to keep his business afloat.

Ewell Smith, director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said that processors across the state of Louisiana have laid off workers and are operating at about 20 percent capacity. “We don’t know how long processors in the state can hang on at 20% production levels. We need to get the demand up,” Smith says.

A spokesman for BP says the company is exploring ways to help the region’s long-term economic recovery.

It took Alaska’s seafood industry about five years to recover from the Exxon Valdez spill. The people on the Gulf hope their rebound will come sooner, but today, optimism is pretty scarce.

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