With the Gulf oil spill now a full-on environmental disaster, seafood lovers are worried. Commercial and recreational fishing has been restricted in certain areas of the Gulf, and seafood supplier Louisiana Foods's Jim Gossen says he's already seen some increase in prices for Gulf oysters and shrimp.
Although it's too early to tell, it's said the spill could affect the industry for years to come. In regards to the present, fewer oysters are consumed this time of year anyway, but the potential hit to the upcoming shrimp season is of concern. (The season will close May 15 and is supposed to reopen sometime in July.)
Gossen is worried about the fishermen who make their living fishing in the Gulf. "Most of these fishermen spend whatever money they have or borrow from whoever's going to buy their product to get ready for the season," he says. "If the season doesn't open, they're out of that money. When I talked to some fishermen today, you could tell in their voice they're very concerned."
Still, he says nobody really knows what's in store for the industry. "There's a lot of information out there," he says. "People are hoping for the best, knowing there could be shortages. They're trying to protect themselves."
Gossen says right now there's a problem of supply and demand. He has seen orders spike from clients concerned about availability in the future. "A customer buying 500 pounds of shrimp a week may want 2,000 pounds," Gossen says. "We've decided as a company to protect the customers that we have, provide them with the same amount they've been buying weekly, and not take on any new customers or let one customer buy everything."
At present, according to Gossen, there is a problem of perception. "I think that's probably the biggest challenge, to get the word to people that this oil spill is in such a small area compared to total square miles of Gulf. But when they say 'oil spill in the Gulf,' naturally people not from the Gulf region think of it as the whole Gulf, when actually it's one section."
Like everyone else, Gossen is worried about the spill's threat to the estuaries on the coast. Right now what Gossen hopes for most is that the majority of oil will be captured before it comes to the surface.
After it all plays out, we'll have a better idea of the extent of damages to the Gulf seafood industry.
"We are in limbo," he says. "We don't really know."