Jon Bell, Guidry, Kurt M., Soileau, Sally M., Caffey, Rex H.
Louisiana seafood products making their way to the market now are safe – despite disruptions and losses the industry suffered as the result of Hurricane Katrina, according to experts at the LSU AgCenter.
Oyster beds in the Gulf of Mexico east of Terrebonne Parish are closed, but shellfish, including oysters, harvested from other areas are safe to eat, said Dr. Jon Bell, a seafood technology professor in the LSU AgCenter.
Bell said the westernmost portions of the Louisiana oyster beds were never closed and that they produce about one-third of the state oyster harvest. All other oyster-growing waters were closed as a precaution until their safety can be verified.
The LSU AgCenter expert said some growing areas west of Lafourche Parish already have been assessed by state officials and found to be safe. They have been reopened to harvest.
Bell also said the tests of the waters and shellfish in these areas indicate bacteria concentrations are below allowable levels and that all chemical tests were negative.
The testing is "part of the normal program for post-hurricane evaluations," he said.
In addition, Bell said processing facilities that were affected by the hurricane and resulting power losses must undergo strict sanitization prior to handling products coming from the Gulf and that they must continue processing under the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) food safety system.
He said shrimp processors in Dulac and Houma were able to recover from the storm’s effects and resume shrimp processing within a week. Facilities further west had no damage and continued with processing operations supplied by shrimp vessels that remained in the Gulf or were docked further west during the hurricane.
"All seafood exposed to floodwaters or spoilage due to lack of refrigeration is unfit for human consumption and must be destroyed," Bell said. "Federal, state and local officials are visiting seafood processing and storage facilities to determine if remaining stored products are safe or not."
The LSU AgCenter expert added that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced it is not aware that any seafood processed prior to the hurricane and stored in the affected areas has entered the commercial marketplace since the hurricane.
"Controls are in place to ensure the safety of Louisiana’s seafood," said Dr. Sally Soileau, a nutrition and health agent with LSU AgCenter in East Baton Rouge Parish. "Products reaching consumers are produced under safe and approved processes regulated by the state Department of Health and Hospitals and the FDA."
But while the seafood coming to market is safe, many Louisiana producers in the hurricane-affected areas are facing trying times, according to industry observers.
LSU AgCenter economist Dr. Kurt Guidry estimates fisheries losses at more than $151 million based on 2004 dockside values and assumed percentage losses. In addition, he said infrastructure damage also is likely.
In addition to commercial fisheries, Guidry estimates more than $20 million in losses to Louisiana’s charter fishing industry based on the number of licensed guides in the state, estimated average revenue per fishing trip per day and estimated number of loss fishing days.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reported 33 percent of the wholesale and retail seafood dealers licensed in Louisiana, 35 percent of the commercial fishermen, nearly 50 percent of the commercial vessels and 63 percent of the charter vessels are based in the parishes affected by Katrina.
Bell said, however, that many processors west of the storm’s path have been able to restore power, meet sanitization requirements and begin processing seafood again.
Despite environmental disruptions, fisheries will rebound, but the people who fish may be another story, according to Dr. Rex Caffey, an economist and director of the LSU AgCenter’s Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy.
"During the past decade, 42 percent of the commercial fishermen in Louisiana have gone out of business, mostly because of global competition" Caffey said.
"Commercial fishing is one of those labor-intensive industries that does not compete well in a global market," he added. "The rising cost of fuel and increasing environmental regulations also are affecting the fishermen’s bottom line."
Caffey pointed out that New Orleans is the major market for Gulf fisheries, and the devastation in that city likely will hamper marketing Louisiana seafood for some time.
"The industry is not just harvesting. It includes docks, ice houses, transportation infrastructure, value-added processing, wholesale businesses and retail businesses," Caffey said.
"After Katrina, we don’t know what will happen," Caffey said. "We don’t know what the fishing industry will look like after this storm."
Caffey said Louisiana produces 20 percent to 25 percent of the total domestic seafood in the lower 48 states and 75 percent of all seafood harvested in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
To aid the fisheries industry, the U.S. Department of Commerce has declared a "fishery failure and fishery resource disaster declaration" for the Gulf of Mexico.
Dr. Hamady Diop, an economist with LSU Sea Grant, said this means the Secretary of Commerce is authorized to request federal relief funds for the affected Gulf States. He said these funds can be used to assess effects of the disaster, restore fisheries and assist affected fishing communities in recovering.
"The federal share of the cost of the relief activity is 75 percent, and the state will have to match the remaining 25 percent," Diop said. "Generally, the state participation is non-monetary."
Once funds are appropriated, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will provide information on how to apply for relief, Diop said.
Jon Bell at (225) 578-5190 or email@example.com
Sally Soileau at (225) 389-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Kurt Guidry at (225) 578-4567 or email@example.com
Rex Caffey at (225) 578-2393 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hamady Diop at (225) 578-6312 or email@example.com
Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or firstname.lastname@example.org