By Joanne Friedrick, Contributing Editor
Published on Monday, April 30, 2012
The oil spill may be cleaned up in the Gulf following the BP disaster at the Deepwater Horizon platform, but those involved in the wild shrimp industry are still struggling to put questions about the safety of the seafood from that region to rest.
Florida was one of several states impacted by the oil spill and was on the receiving end of BP funds for testing and marketing its seafood. Martin May, management review specialist for the Florida Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing in Tallahassee, says the state received $10 million from BP to test Gulf seafood and another $10 million for marketing. In the past, Florida marketed wild shrimp separately, but under its latest program all wild seafood is marketed together. “It’s in the vein of a rising tide floats all boats,” explains May.
In 2011, Florida landed 11 million pounds of shrimp worth about $22 million, he says. Although the state’s fishermen net many different species of shrimp, the majority are pink shrimp, says May.
Tests have shown no issues with the health of Florida’s shrimp population, he says, “but we’ve still combated a lot of negative press” especially when photos of the oil spill reappear. “We found as long as this had exited the news cycle, people weren’t concerned.”
Demand for shrimp is recovering, May adds, but probably not as quickly as had been expected. When there are scares in other food sectors, such as produce, the items affected tend to bounce back more quickly. With shrimp, he says, “it has been a slower return, although the economy could have had some impact on that.”
Some people who are watching their dollars may have eliminated seafood from their shopping list and haven’t yet started buying it again. Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board, says there are still some perception problems for shrimp and other seafood, especially in other parts of the country. So there is still a need to educate consumers about the safety of Louisiana shrimp.
Like Florida, Louisiana has received funds from BP for testing and promotion. As a result, Smith says the marketing budget has jumped roughly tenfold to $10 million.