The tune "Dirty Water" is a great song by The Sandells, and while it refers to the Charles River in the Boston area, residents along the Gulf Coast are all too familiar with the notion of dirty water, courtesy of the oil spill in 2010.
Full disclosure: I grew up along the Gulf Coast, and while I don't call it "home," it will always be special to me. The sights of oil-tainted water, beaches and creatures were bad enough, and despite a strong 2011 summer season, business owners along the coast note they need four or five consecutive summers to recover fully. However, the last thing those and other area businesses need is more bad press about the impact of the spill. Sadly, that news may have appeared in newswires last week: research finds the oil has entered the food chain.
A study by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science found oil has contaminated zooplankton, an early link in the oceanic food chain. As Dr. Michael Roman, author of the study, noted, "Traces of oil in the zooplankton prove that they had contact with the oil and the likelihood that oil compounds may be working their way up the food chain."
So, what impact could this have on the food industry? Well, it's all a matter of that food chain and if, in fact, the zooplankton are contaminated and to what degree. Baby fish and shrimp feed on those zooplankton; other sea creatures then feed on those baby fish and shrimp, and humans fit into that chain eventually.
Not to put this horrible situation in strictly economic terms, but the impact to the region's fishing, oyster and shrimping industry could be catastrophic. For the industry at large, there could be further carryover effects: safe, secure and, possibly most importantly, trusted seafood out of the Gulf may be a thing of the past. Menu items and products incorporating such seafood as oysters or shrimp may well find a steep rise in costs. However, consumers concerned about the safety of such products may nevertheless be willing to pay the price, for peace of mind if nothing else.