Perception is everything, and when it comes to seafood, who takes chances?
The state of Louisiana — which, according to NPR, is the number one producer of shrimp, crawfish and oysters, and ships supplies to 30% of the USA — wants everyone to know that their seafood is safe to eat. Seafood and tourism are huge players in Louisiana’s economy; the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M is estimating that the BP oil spill will cost the state nearly $2 billion annually, as reported by usanews.com.
Changing the perceptions
So it’s no wonder Louisiana is trying desperately to inform American consumers that the seafood is just fine. While not unaffected — jumbo shrimp, crabmeat, and other species that thrive in the current no-fishing zone, is becoming scarce — the seafood that does make it to the market is untainted.
Image: Deep Water Horizon Response / Flickr
Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, says there are two common misconceptions right now:
- Local fishing has stopped.
- It’s unsafe to eat the existing seafood supply.
In response, he says:
Anything going on the market is being tested and tested and tested at unprecedented levels. Seventy percent of the state’s coastline remains open, including areas that are home to gators and catfish and crawfish. All those species right now are at 100 percent.
While restaurants in other states may be advertising that they aren’t serving Louisiana seafood, it’s still being served in its home state. Changes to menus will be made to reflect the decrease of supply of certain species but Louisiana restaurants are standing behind their seafood. “Continue to ask for Louisiana seafood — no restaurant is going to put bad food on a plate,” promises Smith.
Bill Mahan, a safety inspector from the Florida Sea Grant program, backs him up. Mahan assures that more inspections and precautions are in place:
The seafood at this point is completely safe and it’s been inspected and it wouldn’t be out in the restaurant chains or anywhere for sale if it wasn’t safe.
New Orleans restaurant owner, Dick Brennan, says that while assurances to his customers may assuage their fears, the rumors affect potential visitors, especially those with with little knowledge of the region. “We had a call the other day and the lady was asking if the oil was on the beach in New Orleans,” he says, to prove the point.
Sniffers test for oil-tainted seafood
AP journalist, Brian Skoloff, reports in 39online.com that around 40 inspectors have just been trained at a federal fisheries lab to smell for tainted seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. In between sniffing bowls of fresh shrimp and raw oysters, they use freshly cut watermelon to cleanse their palates.
Image: pablosanz / Flickr
Sound ridiculous? It’s not.
According to Brian Gorman from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “the human nose has been used for centuries to aid in making wine, butter and cheese, and is a highly efficient and trustworthy tool. Properly trained noses are really remarkable organs.”
Although that’s not going to convince everyone. Mike Triana, a worker at a Mississippi gas company along the coast, had this to say:
They’re going to smell it? No way. How they gonna know? I ain’t eating any of it. I don’t trust the nose.
Gerald Wojtala, director of the International Food Protection Training Institute, defended the technique, although did admit it sounds silly:
The human nose has been used on a lot of (oil) spill response. There are a lot of sophisticated tests, but when you think about it, do you want to run a test that takes seven days and costs thousands of dollars? This saves a lot of time and money and it puts more eyes and noses at different points in the system.
Silly or not, there aren’t enough inspectors to check every haul of seafood. The nosey agents will be used where needed, “when suspicions are raised about seafood being illegally culled from closed waters, or even to test fish from open waters.”
Bottom line: Don’t cancel your Louisiana seafood orders just yet.
[Feature image: TAZphotos / Flickr]