Media watch: Oil spill, one year later

By

April Forristall, SeafoodSource.com assistant editor

Published on
May 19, 2011

On the anniversary of the BP Deep Horizon explosion and oil spill, media coverage spiked again. But this time, it switched from outcome to aftermath.

Numerous media outlets reported the U.S. Gulf of Mexico seafood industry to be still plagued by suspicion. CBS News reported that in the year since the spill, Louisiana oyster harvests plunged by more than half, hitting the lowest numbers since 1966 and that the industry continues to struggle to win back many customers.

“In a recent GNO survey of national restaurants, half of all customers had unfavorable views of Gulf seafood, despite government assurances,” reported CBS News.

And the story was the same in Alabama. Although most commercial fishing grounds reopened after being shutdown during the spill, fishermen and processors lost customers last year, and they’re having a hard time getting them all back, according to AL.com.

“The seafood industry along Alabama’s Gulf Coast is at a crossroads, and the coming year will be telling of its future,” the website reported.

News coverage in other Gulf states, including Texas and Mississippi, told the same story. High prices, low supply and misperceptions about tainted seafood continue to mar the Gulf seafood industry a year after the oil spill.

For the most part, the national media was fair, and a lot of media traveled to the area to help educate consumers.

“Overall the media really tried to help get the word out, but it’s a huge challenge to engage the media. The last study we did showed that 70 percent of the American public is still nervous about eating Gulf seafood,” said Ewell Smith, director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board. “What’s going to take the most time is that we’ve lost our spot on menus. But real growth will be newer markets like Europe that can give us higher value for our products.”

Smith recently took different leaders in the crab, oyster, shrimp, crawfish and alligator industries to the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels to see what opportunities were available for their products overseas. He said they heard no comments regarding tainted seafood and hopes that they’ll be ready for that market within the next year.

In addition, the board is using some of the USD 30 million settlement from BP to bring on agencies to help them repair Gulf seafood’s image. Three agencies, New Orleans-based GCR & Associates, the Graham Group of Louisiana and The Food Group in New York, have been selected from 35 agencies that applied to create the strategic rebranding team.

However, the battle is far from over. Flooding in Mississippi is dealing yet another blow to the seafood industry. Smith says the flooding could drop oyster production levels to as low as 25 percent of normal levels.

“We were just seeing things return somewhat to normal, and just as that happens we have yet another setback. And for those communities directly in the path, many of which are fishing communities, they are going to be impacted greatly,” said Smith. “The people of Louisiana are very resilient, but this is really testing us.”

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