Gulf Oil Spill's Impact on the Seafood Industry

Most of us are aware of the catastrophic environmental disaster that occurred on April 20th of this year in the Gulf of Mexico, when an offshore oil rig exploded causing a deluge of crude oil to spill into the ocean water from an undersea well.

This tragedy continues while U.S. Government and B.P. work to solve the problem. Estimates are that 88 to 184 million gallons have spilled into the ocean to date. Efforts are being made to contain the spread and clean as much of the oil up as possible.

In addition to the environmental consequences, many are concerned with what impact the oil spill will have on the domestic seafood market. When news first broke on this disaster some speculated that there would be an immediate and long lasting impact upon the U.S. fishing industry.

Domestic Seafood Market Impacted
The fishing areas affected include the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Louisiana is the top provider of shrimp, oysters, crab and crayfish in the United States, providing about a third of what is consumed. The oil spill in the Gulf has devastated Louisiana’s fishing industry and spiked prices for oysters and some other items, but has yet to create a broad ranging seafood shortage. About 17 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from domestic sources and, of that, just over 2 percent of that comes from the Gulf, so the majority of our seafood is sourced internationally.

Seafood Prices
The oil spill has had an impact on seafood prices in general. For example, the price of wild caught Mexican white shrimp from the Gulf spiked sharply even though there hasn’t been a direct impact upon wild harvests of these shrimp.
The demands of the market and speculation about future shrimp harvest, in conjunction with global shrimp markets being tight, have contributed to this price inflation. Oyster beds, on the other hand, have been directly affected causing prices for shucked gallons to increase by a whopping 37 percent since May.

East Coast Seafood
So far we have not seen a direct upset in East Coast seafood supplies or prices due to the spill. We must, however, consider this as a possibility, especially if the oil well isn’t capped successfully. It is not possible for scientists to predict a definite path of the oil flow.

What to Expect Next?
What scientists can do is estimate a range of possible trajectories, based on the best understanding of how ocean currents transport material.  The oil trajectory that actually occurs will depend both on the short-term evolution of the Gulf Loop Current, which feeds into the Gulf Stream, and on the state of the overlying atmosphere. At that point, speeds pick up to about 40 miles per day, and when the liquid enters the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream it can travel at speeds up to about 100 miles per day, or 3,000 miles per month. Several scientific simulations all predict the oil to head to south Florida and then up the East Coast under different conditions and timelines.

Hopefully the recent well cap will hold and cleanup and containment efforts will move quickly enough to avoid further damage up the coast. We will all be closely monitoring this event as news continues to unfold about the ultimate impact upon the environment, seafood markets and the economy.

-by Jamie Lewis, City Market's Meat & Seafood Manager