The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has opened up another 4,123 square miles of federal water for harvesting shrimp—specifically one type of shrimp, royal red—declaring the waters free of contaminants from last summer’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
But shrimpers say that’s a drop in the bucket, noting that Royal Red accounts for less than 2 percent of the shrimp caught in the region.
The shimpers face obstacles of both perception and reality.
“Testing is showing that the seafood from all over the Gulf, all species, are testing clean, not by a small margin—by a huge margin.”
Perception. Testing has repeatedly shown Gulf seafood to be clean and safe, but many consumers remain skittish—they’re just not buying the government’s all-clear and they’re not buying fish from the Gulf.
Quoted in a story by Garrett Tenney and Patrick Manning for FoxNews.com, NOAA spokesperson Christine Patrick said “We are trying to get the message out. It’s easy to damage consumer confidence, and it’s hard to rebuild.”
“Testing is showing that the seafood from all over the Gulf, all species, all from the water column are testing clean, not by a small margin—by a huge margin,” Patrick says.
Reality. Perhaps an even larger concern for those in the region’s fishing industry is what the future may hold. Shrimpers and other fishermen worry about potential long-term effects of the oil spill on shrimp and fish populations to come.
Even if this season’s catch may is clean and safe to eat, what about the next crop? Maybe this year’s shrimp were hatched before the oil spill occurred. Who knows what the next crop will be like, they wonder. Will they have effectively reproduced healthy shrimp, or will the new shrimp have some type of genetic defect? Will they be truly safe to eat? Dr. Julie Olson, at the University of Alabama’s Department of Biological Sciences, agreed that many of the questions about the future of Gulf shrimp remain unanswered at this point. And she says she’s still not comfortable with data suggesting that the oil from the spill is completely gone.
The reality is, the future—not to mention the present—remains very uncertain for those who make their livelihoods from Gulf seafood.