Galveston seafood sales drop after oil spill

It is a terrible blow to seafood businesses whenever there is an oil spill, but it is especially harmful during the profitable Lenten season.

On 22 March, more than 160,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a barge in Galveston Bay, Texas, closing the 50-mile Houston Ship Channel. Soon after, the Texas Department of State Health Services warned consumers not to eat fish, shrimp or crabs from the areas impacted by the spill.

As was the case with BP-Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill, which occurred in April 2010, some Galveston-area seafood businesses are already suffering from consumer perception that Texas seafood may be tainted from the oil.

“They killed our retail sales for lent. It’s a little scary,” Nello Cassarino, owner of wholesale and retail operation Galveston Shrimp Co., told SeafoodSource. While many Galveston-area residents typically buy seafood on Fridays during Lent, sales at the company’s retail outlet dropped by around 75 percent on the first Friday after the oil spill.

“The biggest challenge is allowing people to understand that the seafood is safe, and educating them on what is going on,” Cassarino said. Educating consumers on the safety of Gulf seafood was also the industry’s primary challenge after the BP oil spill, he added. “We are re-living the BP oil spill.”

Fortunately, most Texas restaurants that serve seafood have not been impacted by the spill — yet. “I’m sure it has been more noteworthy along the coast, but we haven’t had any calls expressing concern,” Richie Jackson, CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, told SeafoodSource.

Meanwhile, Cassarino is concerned about the amount of compensation that all impacted businesses — particularly bait shops — will receive from the companies responsible for the spill. “Oysters, bay fisheries and the live bait season are all impacted. Starting from spring break to when school starts is the time when bait shops make their money. It has an enormous impact.”

While Galveston Shrimp Co. has not yet seen an impact on shrimp supply, the full effects won’t be apparent until harvest this September. “All the shrimp that come into the estuaries [in the Bay] this time of year lay their eggs. Each shrimp lays 850,000 to 1 million eggs and there is a 60 to 70 percent survival rate. It’s a huge amount of product that could be damaged for the September season,” Cassarino said.


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