Even though the U.S. imports roughly 83% of its seafood, and just 2% of domestic seafood supplies come from the Gulf, seafood lovers may still pay a premium for some seafood because of the utter devastation to the seafood industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
Thailand accounts for more than 30 percent of the shrimp imported to the U.S; the rest is gleaned from Central America, Vietnam, China, and Indonesia. Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, a trade group that represents the seafood industry, said prices for imported white shrimp have risen more than 17%, partly because of fears that there could be shortages in the market.
Most of the seafood in the Gulf is exported. Last year, 5 states in the Gulf of Mexico exported US$11.6 million worth of fish and shellfish to Canada. The Wall Street Journal reports that the average wholesale price of Gulf brown shrimp has jumped by more than half since before the spill as fishing restrictions have closed down large swaths of the once-prolific fishery. Oyster prices are up 33% over the same period, according to Urner Barry, a company that tracks commodity prices, including seafood.
“It’s almost impossible to tell how bad it’s going to be,” said Robert Santangelo of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
Even before the Deepwater Horizon blowout, generations of U.S. shrimpers faced financial ruin because of cheap, frozen imported shrimp glutting the American market. Foreign shrimp fisherman aren’t restrained from the bycatch laws American shrimp fishermen are required to follow.
Now, with oil gushing into the gulf at the staggering rate of what a BP internal memo claimed could be 100,000 barrels per day, marine life in the Gulf may never recover.
Even if BP were to plug the well tomorrow, serious questions remain about the toxic effects on humans from eating seafood that’s been exposed to the dispersant BP is using to break up the oil.
Banned in the UK, the dispersal agent being used by BP is Corexit 9500, a solvent originally developed by Exxon and now manufactured by Nalco Holding Company of Naperville, IL. The Corexit dispersant does not eliminate the oil, nor decrease the oil’s toxicity, it just breaks the oil down into small particles so that the oil is less visible.
A Louisiana class action lawsuit filed last week claims the dispersant BP is using is actually more toxic than the oil itself. The dispersant suit seeks $5 million on behalf of Gulf coast residents and those working to clean up the spill.
According to the complaint, the 1.3 million gallons of dispersant used has caused a toxic chemical to be a permanent part of the sea bed and food chain in the bio structure.” The plaintiffs say Corexit is four times more lethal than the oil itself, and that BP has allowed “an even more dangerous condition to exist in the Gulf of Mexico than if the oil was allowed to float to the shoreline.”
A May article in The New York Times reported that Corexit “ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling.” Corexit was banned in the UK because it was found hazardous to the food chain.
Exposure to Corexit was identified as a possible contributor to a number of maladies that included kidney and liver problems with recovery workers in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska.
The EPA has recommended that anyone dealing with dispersants is “strongly advised to use a half face filter mask or an air-supplied breathing apparatus to protect their noses, throats, and lungs, and they should wear nitrile or PVC gloves, coveralls, boots, and chemical splash goggles to keep dispersants off skin and out of their eyes.”
Since dispersant coats the skin and gills of fish and will find its way into the marine life, anyone consuming seafood from the Gulf of Mexico will be exposed to the chemicals. And no one knows how long the dispersants linger in the ocean ecosystem.
According to a report [pdf] from Sciencecorps, “studies the government has on [Corexit dispersant] toxicity, persistence, and bioaccumulation should be made public. This information has not been adequately provided to the public or public health community. This severely limits the ability of people to make informed decisions and take appropriate protective action.”
Yesterday, news reports indicated that the Coast Guard seized about 30,000 pounds of brown shrimp taken from two fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast that is closed to fishing because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Unbelievably, the shrimp were released back into the Gulf.
A customer in North Carolina at Vinnie’s Raw Bar in Lake Norman says he found oil inside the oyster he was eating. Matthew Robertson was eating oysters with dinner when he found the oil inside the oyster.
“They looked fine, just regular, but then as the soon as they opened, you know, it’s just they got on my hands, the black stuff, and it was a kind of on, a little bit on, as you can see, right here. It was just a little bit on the meat.” Robertson said.
Food Safety News reports that yesterday, the area of the Gulf of Mexico closed to fishing because of the BP oil spill grew by 7 percent to 86,985 square miles. The area closed is now as large as the entire State of Minnesota.
“The closed area represents 36 percent of the U.S. economic zone in the Gulf. Four of the five Gulf states have closed state waters as well. The closures are imposed to ensure that seafood that is harvested is safe to eat.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Food and Drug Administration claim they’re sampling fish from the Gulf, but inspectors have yet to make an appearance at docksides, and some restaurants have been putting up signs saying they do not sell Gulf seafood.
The oil from the Gulf has now possibly spread to the Bahamas. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) scientists and volunteers will take sediment samples and test them on the Defence Force vessel HMS Bahamas to confirm or deny the presence of oil in Bahamian waters.
Some reports estimate that the relief wells being drilled are nothing but a pipe dream, and oil industry expert Matthew Simmons estimates the number barrels of oil in the reservoir underneath the leaking spill site at one billion, where he says that unless stopped, 120,000 barrels a day will leak for 25-30 years; that adds up to 1,095,000,000 to 1,314,000,000 barrels. That is roughly the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez spill every four days.
With damning news reports released almost daily about the worsening situation in the Gulf, and as long as the oil gushes freely, how many people anywhere will be willing to purchase seafood from the Gulf of Mexico at any cost?