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Galveston Oil Spill Has Put Texas Oysters and Seafood Off the Menu

Galveston Oil Spill Has Put Texas Oysters and Seafood Off the Menu
Photo by David Monniaux

The Galveston oil spill was bad enough when it was leaving oiled birds and all kinds of environmental and economic damage in its wake. Now it's even hitting the Texas seafood.

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued an advisory on eating shellfish and other seafood from Galveston Bay on Thursday. Specifically:

Because of the presence of oil in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico it is recommended that people not consume fish, shrimp or crabs from areas where oil is present. Persons should discard fish, shrimp or crabs that have oil on them or have a hydrocarbon taste or smell.

The oil spill that happened just under a week ago after a collision of two vessels in the Houston Ship Channel near Texas City dumped about 168,000 gallons of a particularly nasty type of crude. It's fuel oil which is heavy and sticky and the kind of thing that, when dumped into, say a body of water will both spread and sink and be generally bad for many of the lifeforms that come into contact with it like fish and crabs and oysters. (This is particularly lousy for the oyster reefs, because they've still been in slow recovery since Hurricane Ike swept through in 2008 damaging and nearly destroying many of the oyster beds.)

Thus if you're thinking of eating the seafood that has been pulled out of the stretch from Southern Galveston Bay to Matagorda Bay, plus any of the Gulf of Mexico areas where oil has been found you might want to think twice for a bit. Namely, until state health department officials say it's all clear.

Read: Galveston Bay Closed to Shellfish Harvesting Due to Dinophysis

This doesn't necessarily mean an embargo on all Texas seafood to your stomach though. If you're out on the water and catch something you want to eat and it's neither covered with oil or laced with that funky hydrocarbony smell or taste then you're probably good to go, according to the advisory.

 

There's also no current indication that seafood already in the marketplace has been contaminated, though the officials with the Department of State Health Services are increasing surveillance of wholesalers, just in case. They are not outright closing any areas for fishing, shrimping or oystering. Sections of Galveston Bay were closed to oystering a couple weeks ago, but it was for a strain of algae, dinophisis, that turned up in the waters.

When it comes down to it, the advisory just advocates using good sense. If a fish or crab is covered in oil when pulled out of the water or if it smells like a gas tank and tastes like, you know, oil, don't eat it. This type of oil, unlike gasoline which evaporates relatively quickly, can take months and sometimes years to clear out of the water.

The Department of State Health Services is appropriately vague on when this whole oil spill will stop possibly screwing up the seafood industry in one of the biggest commercial seafood areas on the Gulf Coast. There's no timeline. It's just "once the oil is no longer visible and the fish, shrimp or crabs do not taste or smell like oil." In the meantime, you can eat seafood, but make sure it passes the smell test first.


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