Oil spill threatens seafood favorites

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 1, 2010

Local restaurateurs say they don’t expect to have a problem finding fish for their menus in light of the problems caused by the huge oil spill spreading along the coast, but experts say restaurant patrons had best prepare themselves to say “goodbye, Gulf favorites.”

The Associated Press reported this week that the oil will affect the oyster industry, which has an estimated $500 million-a-year economic impact along the Gulf Coast, more than half of that in Louisiana. Nearly three-fifths of the nation’s oyster production takes place along the now-endangered coast. Gulf shrimp and crawfish, as well as a number of fish, also are endangered.

Andalusia Country Club food and beverage manager Pat Bowland is already working on a plan to replace Gulf favorites on her menu. The prices, she knows, will be higher.

“Your flounder and grouper will be affected here, as well as the crawfish,” she said. “I wouldn’t order it from the Gulf.”

And while, it’s not difficult for Bowland to find an alternative vendor in a different region of the country, she said she’s going to have to seek it out and find the right price.

“This is something I’m going to have to seek out,” she said. “My customers won’t pay the high price, so if it’s too high, we may just have to do without. We may just have to have certain fish and not the grouper and the flounder until it’s safe to get it from the Gulf again. We’ll just have to see.”

C.J.’s Grille owner Casey Jones also expects higher prices.

“We haven’t felt (the effects) yet, but we will,” he said. “The reason I say that is whether or not it affects the market they will use it to increase prices. The seafood market is not regulated at all.”

But like environmental experts, Jones expects the disaster to affect Gulf seafood.

“It will affect the seafood we are currently getting from the Gulf, which is grouper,” he said. “And we also buy crawfish. We’ll have to go to a Mexican grouper.”

He said he’ll have to go to a farm-raised crawfish or Vietnamese.

“We won’t be without. We’ll have to change our buying habits,” he said. “If (the price) gets over the top, where I can’t sell the product in a small market, I’ll have to take it off our menu for the time being.”

Hilltop Seafood Restaurant’s Gina Green said they haven’t had any supply problems thus far.

“Everything is kosher. Let’s hope it stays that way,” she said.

Buckboard owner Ben Spears said most of his grouper and other fish comes frozen, but said he occasionally purchases some fresh seafood from the Destin. Thus far, he hasn’t had any problems.

“We haven’t had any problems. I sure hope we won’t,” he said. “I’ve got a hook up in Destin that we get our seafood for fresh options. We only do fresh when we get a call for some really good, fresh seafood.”

By lunch on Friday, oil from the spill oozed into Louisiana’s wetlands and was expected to reach the state’s bayous and beaches as early as Sunday.

Friday afternoon, Gov. Bob Riley declared a state of emergency to prepare for oil approaching the state’s coast.

“This oil leak poses a serious threat to our environment and economy,” Riley said. “With our natural resources, our businesses and our coastal communities in harm’s way, Alabama can’t afford to take anything for granted. Our state agencies have been working with federal agencies to prepare Alabama for an unprecedented environmental disaster.”

A number of plaintiffs seeking to represent commercial shrimpers and fishermen, seafood processors and condominium owners have sued BP Plc and the other companies involved with a drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last week.