An update on the Gulf Oil Spill from our resident seafood expert and Board Member, Megan Westmeyer. Thank you Megan for providing us with up-to-date information on this important event.
The well is still leaking oil into the Gulf at an estimated rate of 210,000 gallons per day. It has been leaking for 22 days, thus the estimated volume of the spill is just over 4.5 million gallons. Efforts by BP to place a funnel or box over the leak last weekend failed due to ice-like crystals clogging the funnel. They are trying a new and smaller box called a “top hat” and will use warm water and methanol to prevent the ice crystals from forming.
Workers continue to skim oil from the surface of the water, burn patches of oil, and apply chemical dispersants. Fortunately very little oil has made landfall. The winds are now out of the southeast and are pushing the oil slick in more of a westward direction, away from Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. It is now moving towards the Mississippi River Delta and portions of Central Louisiana.
The size and shape of the state and federal fishery closures are changing on an almost daily basis because government agencies are very closely tracking the oil and chemicals to ensure our seafood supply is not contaminated. To the right is a most recent closure maps produced by the state of Louisiana showing the closures in both federal and state waters as of yesterday.
As you can see from the map to the right, a substantial portion of Louisiana’s oyster harvest is closed. Louisiana produces about 40% of the U.S. oyster supply, so these closures are bound to impact the availability and prices of oysters, especially as many states begin normal summer closures to oyster harvest. The Appalachicola Bay in Florida remains open to oyster harvest and is not immediately threatened by the oil spill.
You may start seeing shortages in the domestic shrimp supply and may have already seen price increases, though many of these are due to speculation. Louisiana shrimpers are permitted harvest shrimp offshore in federal waters all year round, but only the larger boats tend to do this. Smaller vessels wait until the state waters open for shrimp season, which usually occurs in mid-May. On Monday, May 10, Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries opened the shrimp season west of the Mississippi River, with the exception of the specific closed areas noted on the attached ‘All Closures’ map. Areas east of the Mississippi River are closed to shrimping. (Lakes Ponchartrain and Borgne are closed to shrimping because of the presence of juvenile shrimp, not because of oil.) If you hear about the closure for shrimping off of Texas in state and federal waters, please be aware that this is a normal closure that occurs every year to avoid harvest of small shrimp. The season normally opens back up in July when shrimp are larger.
Multiple government agencies continue to test the air, water, and sediment in potentially affected areas. Initial sampling gave them benchmark levels with which to compare potentially contaminated products. Inspectors continue to test seafood products. I have not heard of any contamination issues.