|Published:||May 03, 2010 11:56 AM EDT|
|Updated:||May 03, 2010 11:56 AM EDT|
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - As a giant oil slick lapped at southeastern
Louisiana's ecologically sensitive coast, chefs, restaurant owners
and seafood dealers were certain it would squeeze the state's $2.4
billion seafood industry. They just weren't sure how badly or for
Federal officials shut down fishing for at least 10 days from
the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle on Sunday because of
the uncontrolled gusher spewing massive amounts of oil into the
Gulf of Mexico.
"It's called fear of the unknown," said Ricky Power, a
suburban New Orleans seafood distributor. Power was certain,
however, that prices will rise and availability will fall.
Among the unknowns: how much longer it would take oil giant BP
to stop the flow of oil from the site of last week's offshore rig
explosion; how successful would be the attempts to keep the oily
water out of seafood habitat; and how the oil would affect
reproduction of oysters, shrimp, crabs and finfish.
"This isn't just going to be a short-term thing," said Ben
Wicks, owner and chef at Mahony's PO-Boy Shop, a neighborhood
eatery in a converted shotgun house in uptown New Orleans.
Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and
Marketing Board, said he applauded the federal government's
decision to shut down fishing for at least 10 days to "ensure
everyone that all seafood in the Gulf is of the highest quality and
is safe to eat."
Award winning chef Donald Link, whose Herbsaint and Cochon
restaurants in New Orleans are popular with tourists and locals
alike, said another problem is the publicity surrounding the slick.
He didn't want anyone to think that Louisiana seafood had
disappeared or was unsafe, or that New Orleans restaurants were
"I'm probably more concerned at this point with Louisiana
getting a bad rap in the media and tourism dropping off than I am
lack of seafood," said Link.
Clam growers in Cedar Key, a small island community that juts
out into the Gulf of Mexico from Florida, echoed Link's concern,
even though the oil remained far from their muddy waters. Fishing
and boat tours proceeded as usual Sunday, and local oysters and
clams were on restaurant menus, though owners warily eyed news from
the spill to the west.
Hype over oil damage would be as economically destructive as the
oil itself, said Brian Mattice, a clam grower and owner of Island
Hoppers charter boat company.
Clams are crucial to Cedar Key, yielding $45 million in dockside
and wholesale sales in 2007, the most recent numbers available. A
drop in sales, potentially followed by contaminated water, would be
catastrophic, Mattice said.
"Even if we get a little bit of oil and a little bit of media
coverage, we're done," Mattice said.
That's not to say he's not worried about his supply - or his
suppliers. His restaurants could survive a few weeks or even a few
months without Louisiana seafood, he said, but many of the oyster
growers and independent commercial fishermen who supply him were
within the trajectory of the oil slick. They might not survive a
The slick was threatening marshes and bayous east of the
Mississippi River in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes - one of
the state's most abundant oyster producing areas, as well as a
source of shrimp, crabs and finfish.
"It's going to be a huge disaster for St. Bernard," said Kevin
Vizard, owner and chef at Vizard's restaurant on Magazine Street in
New Orleans. He ticked off a list of towns and communities -
Hopedale, Shell Beach, Delacroix - that are havens for commercial
and recreational fishing.
Rocky Dictharo, a seafood dealer in the Plaquemines Parish town
of Buras, agreed. His family, he said, has fished the area for four
generations. His brother still fishes. He said fishermen aren't
just worried about the shrimp and oysters, but about the
microscopic life they feed on. If much oil infiltrates the area, it
could devastate seafood in that area for years. "When you kill
that food chain, nothing's going to come back to this area," he
The broader picture wasn't as bleak. Plenty of areas west of the
Mississippi were unaffected and were not forecast to suffer from
the spill, noted Ewell Smith of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion
Board. Smith, who also applauded the decision to halt fishing, said
the board was working to assure the public thst Louisiana seafood
was available and safe.
He noted that the closure did not affect the entire Gulf. The
waters west of the Mississippi River are still open and represent
more than three-quarters of Louisiana seafood production, he said.
"We have over 300 miles of coast," Smith said Friday. "We
should be fine unless this thing gets totally out of control."