Steve Wilson, chief quality officer for NOAA's Seafood Inspection Program, demonstrates sensory analysis of a sample of shrimp on July 8, 2010 at NOAA's National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula. Photo property of Monica Allen.

It’s official: oil is making its way up the food chain.  The scope of the oil spill and its effect on Gulf seafood remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure –  its effects are already beginning to show at the most basic level, in shellfish, mollusks, and other microorganisms, whose defenses against contaminants aren’t as developed as other finfish.

At the beginning of this month, trace amounts of oil were spotted in blue crab larvae.  Now scientists have started to report a major die-off of pyrosomes.  Blue crabs and pyrosomes are two major sources of sustenance for larger fish, seafood, and birds – microorganisms whose health reflects the overall change in the state of the Gulf ecosystem.   According to marine scientist, Rob Condon, “[if] you change the base of the food web, it’s going to ripple through the entire food web. Ultimately it’s going to impact fishing and introduce a lot of contaminants into the food web.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Drug Administration began testing samples of seafood shortly after the spill occurred, and have collected over 1500 samples to date.  Thusfar, sensory and chemical analysis have proclaimed the seafood safe for human consumption.  However, despite rigorous testing, the public’s perception of Gulf seafood has been affected, and 44% of Americans surveyed report that they would not eat it.  Chefs Collaborative urges the community to support the strong, indigenous food culture present in Gulf communities by buying Gulf seafood that has been deemed safe for consumption by NOAA and the FDA.