It’s not easy watching a former home hit hard times. More than three quarters of my life has been spent along the Gulf Coast, and as I write this, a cap is tentatively curtailing the spill of oil into the gulf. This is not going to be a diatribe on what this president’s administration should have done to curtail the tragedy, nor will it be a lambasting of the previous president’s eight years in office. Frankly, I’m just hoping it’s not a eulogy.
Hurricanes, though powerful and damaging, are an accepted part of life in the region. The oil spill is something else entirely. Even if the current cap holds the oil at bay, there remains the pending problem of several million gallons of oil spreading to beaches and decimating wildlife. Already, prime oyster and fishing grounds are closed, even though they have not yet been contaminated from the oil spill. I worked in a seafood restaurant and know a number of fishermen, shrimpers and oystermen, and they are seeing their livelihoods disappear with every ball of oil that washes ashore, as are countless restaurants and businesses who look to the Gulf to lure tourists.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates 67% of the oysters eaten in America come from the Gulf. The oyster beds off the coast of northwest Florida are in particular danger, as oil-tinged waters creep closer toward Apalachicola Bay.
However, as of this writing, the pending threat for seafood suppliers throughout the Gulf region is word of mouth. While no contaminated seafood has been found to date, numerous seafood restaurants around the country are cancelling orders for Gulf shrimp, fish and oysters. Once contaminated product is found, as it almost certainly will be, restoring the public’s confidence in the region’s product will prove unimaginably challenging and will hit local shrimpers and fishermen still reeling from the impact of Katrina. That could well be the finishing blow to numerous livelihoods and supply sources. If and when that happens, seafood costs could rise precipitously and have untold impact on that segment of the food industry for some time.
Will that segment bounce back? Of course. It will take time, but if the product is proven safe, consumers will return to it. It’s just a question of how much time, education and hope that will take...and how many livelihoods are lost in the meantime.