Five years past oil spill, Gulf seafood industry focuses on future

Published on
April 20, 2015

Today, on the five-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it would be natural for the members of the Gulf seafood industry to be bitter, lamenting the extensive damage that was done to the reputation of seafood in the region long after the tragedy.

However, the seafood leaders that SeafoodSource spoke with are not sour. In fact, they are very upbeat about the current and future success of the fisheries there, including shrimp, crab, oysters, crawfish and all types of finfish.

“It is behind people. People are concentrating on what they need to do to come into the future,” said Harlon Pearce, owner of Harlon’s LA Fish and president of the board of the Gulf Seafood Institute (GSI). “We are pretty resilient and can react to change the seafood industry.” LA Fish, for instance, has plans to double its plant size by the end of 2016 in order to process more seafood.

At the same time, Pearce acknowledged that some fisheries have recovered from the oil spill better than others. For example, suppliers report around a 50 percent reduction in Louisiana oysters over the past year. “I blame it on too much freshwater coming in from diversion projects, which killed the oysters,” Pearce said.

Oysters and crab supply have been hampered, agreed Jim Gossen, chairman of Sysco Louisiana Seafoods, but the oil spill is not necessarily to blame for that. “It could be many issues. We have cycles in every [fishery].”

Pearce, Gossen and others have certainly not forgotten the incredible damage reaped by the oil spill fiasco that began on 20 April 2010.

“It was the most covered event in the Gulf. There was a camera focused on where the oil was escaping 24 hours a day,” Gossen said. “It’s hard to come back from something like that, other than to just let time heal.”

Still, the Gulf states are working together on proactive, rather than reactive, initiatives. The GSI would like to see the development of a Gulf science center in order to conduct fishery research.

“This will help fisheries do stock assessments and test water quality, so you have a baseline on which to draw and can see trends,” Pearce said.

“As an industry, everyone would like to see more testing. We need really accurate analyses and long-term, unbiased testing,” Gossen said.

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