City bracing for seafood price increases

Don’t be surprised if, during the next few weeks, your favorite seafood dish gets a bit more expensive.

It's too early to determine exactly how large (and expensive) an impact the BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico will have on our city’s seafood, but restaurateurs and fish distributors are bracing for higher prices in the coming weeks.

And it’s likely we’ll see the largest impact on shrimp, crabs and oysters.

“In the last week, we’ve been told the price of shrimp will go up $2 a pound,” said Tony Maltese, seafood director at Fairway, who buys a lot of shrimp from the Gulf. Customers can expect to see an increase of about $2.50 per pound, he said, from around $8 a pound to over $10 a pound in two or three weeks.

“For oysters, it’s going to be a disaster. I get most of my oysters from the Chesapeake Bay,” Maltese said. Because they can’t swim the way fin fish and even shrimp can, oysters may be more impacted by the spill.

Considering that most restaurants mark seafood up by at least 300 percent, we may see serious price increases and menu changes around the city. “We are planning on getting a lot of crabs coming up from there soon and we may have to rethink that,” said Laurence Edelman, executive chef at Mermaid Oyster Bar. “There are always other sources for these things, but if you want specifically local Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico stuff — which is great — it’s going to be hard.”

The Gulf of Mexico is home to almost 70 percent of U.S. oyster production and ¾ of domestic shrimp. But to put it into perspective, only about 10 percent of shrimp in this country is sourced domestically, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute. A lot of shrimp comes from Vietnam and Indonesia.

“So far we’ve seen limited effects, but we’ve made plans so to source product from the Carolinas and Georgia instead,” said Matt Hovey, a buyer at seafood distributor Wild Edibles. He added that snappers, groupers, tuna and swordfish could also be affected depending on how much the oil spreads.

For now, the city’s purveyors of fish are joining the country in a waiting game, unsure of what’s in store for the Gulf.

Ben Pollinger, executive chef at Oceana restaurant buys his shrimp from a small mom-and-pop New Orleans fishing company. He’s been in touch with the owners every day since the explosion. “They opened up an in-shore shrimp season and started harvesting two weeks early,” he said. But Pollinger said the ecosytem and seafood sustainability is a bigger worry than price, which will likely affect Southern restaurants that rely solely on Gulf seafood more.

But. ... Is it safe to eat?

Gavin Gibbons of the National Fisheries Institute stressed that seafood currently being harvested in parts of the Gulf that have not been closed off by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminitration are “absolutely safe.” The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is keeping a close eye on all seafood coming out, he said.
 

Tags: Gulf of Mexico , seafood

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