LSU AgCenter agents, scientists help seafood industry in recovery from oil spill

Linda Benedict, Blanchard, Tobie M.

Crates of crabs sit on the bustling dock of Pontchartrain Blues, a crab processing facility in Slidell, La., on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Though business is down 70-80 percent because of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, owner Gary Bauer is determined to stay open to keep his customers supplied and his labor force working.

“If I close my doors, those people would have left, and when they reopened the waters, I wouldn’t have had anybody available to do the processing,” Bauer said. “So I had a lot of motivation to keep the doors open.”

Waters closed because of the oil spill were reopened to commercial crabbing, but not before Bauer started purchasing crabs from North Carolina to keep his business afloat. The long-distance haul severely cut into his profits.

“Keeps us treading water is what it did,” he said.

Similar scenarios are playing out at docks across the Gulf Coast. Some processors haven’t been as lucky as Bauer and have had to close because of lack of product.

Recovery money is yet to put a dent in damages. LSU AgCenter area fisheries agent Rusty Gaudé is working with the fishing community to help them navigate the recovery process.

“Thus far the claims against BP for the docks and processors have been woefully less than the actual losses they incurred,” Gaudé said.

With additional waters open, more local seafood is available, but processors and fishers are still up against a negative public perception of seafood from the Gulf. Experts say rigorous testing has shown the oil spill has had little effect on seafood.

“In the seafood samples in open and closed waters where they’re harvested to test, they haven’t found any contamination. The reason why the waters were closed, they were closed as a precaution,” said Jon Bell, an LSU AgCenter food scientist specializing in seafood.

Bell provides training on how sensory evaluation of seafood works while letting participants do “sniff tests” of samples of seafood spiked with petroleum and diesel.

Bauer attended a training session and now trusts sensory evaluation.
“It is amazing how easy it is for an untrained person like myself to pick up on the tainted product versus the fresh product,” Bauer said. “It was an eyeopener.”

Despite the challenges and hardships the oil spill caused, Bauer remains optimistic. “We’re going to come out of this just like we came out of Katrina,” he said.

Tobie Blanchard

(This article was published in the summer 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
9/29/2010 8:01:46 PM
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