Gaining Perspective: The Impact of the Oil Spill on the Seafood Industry
by Kelly Frederick
Since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion on April 20, in the Gulf of Mexico, the media has been fixated on the oil spill and its effects on the environment and the cleanup process. For the food industry, there has been a lot of concern surrounding the impact on the local Gulf Coast seafood industry. In IFT’s Late Breaking Session (#214) held Tuesday morning, July 20, two industry experts helped separate the media myths from the facts of the situation, and explained the true impact on the seafood industry.
Mike Voisin, Motivatit Seafood, began the session offering his perspective as someone dealing first hand with seafood in the Gulf of Mexico. Motivatit is one of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest oyster farming, harvesting, and processing companies. As he elucidated, in Louisiana alone there are over 17,000 commercial fishermen and there are over $2.2 billion in seafood sales every year. While Voisin knows that this is a “significant spill,” he also believes that the “pictures we see on CNN actually make it [the spill] appear worse than it is.”
Currently, 40% of Louisiana’s waters are closed to commercial fishing. What seafood is being brought in from the Gulf is coming back clean, according to Voisin. The seafood “is safe if not safer than it has ever been,” said Voisin. Ronald Klein, Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation, explained that due to the depth of the oil spill, the polyaromatic hydrocarbons (the carcinogenic component of oil) are degrading as they rise to the surface, which partly explains why the seafood being tested is not showing any signs of the polyaromatic hydrocarbons. According to Klein, the best way to determine whether the seafood has been affected by the oil spill is through sensory analysis—the appearance, odor, color, feel, and taste of the seafood. However, the lack of trained sensory analysts is slowing the reopening implementation process.
It is obvious that the biggest challenge that the Gulf Coast seafood industry faces now is consumer confidence. The sensationalism of the media is certainly not helping the issue, and there is an increasing need for risk communication and risk assessment. And while it may take the area two to three years to fully recover from this blow, Voisin has no doubt that it will pull through. “I’ve never met a people more resilient in my whole life,” he said.