Louisiana works to wash image of seafood post-spill

A sign advertises oysters at the Bourbon House restaurant in New Orleans, La.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: I think I could live on a steady diet of delicious Gulf shrimp -- spicy Cajun-style. Which brings up the really tough question in the Big Easy this morning: How do you market the catch of the day from waters tainted with gobs of oil? The Louisiana Food Service Expo wraps up today in New Orleans, and everyone's talking about the effects of the BP spill on their huge contribution to the region's economy. Marketplace's Eve Troeh is in NOLA. Good morning, Eve.

Eve Troeh: Hi, Bob.

Moon: So have you had a po-boy since you've been down there?

Troeh: I've had a few po-boys: I had one catfish, one shrimp and one shrimp and oyster. All with lots of hot sauce.

Moon: Well it sounds like you're convinced. But what's the industry trying to do to combat this idea that seafood is contaminated?

Troeh: Well the main thing that they say they need is one very digestible, if you will, message for the public, and that might be something like a sticker that certifies seafood in the grocery store as "Gulf safe," and they'd put that on every package and it would be backed up by all the government agencies that are testing the seafood every day. One representative from Alaska was here in town and he said that Alaska spent more than $100 million on marketing just to repair the image of their seafood after the Exxon-Valdez spill, and that was more than 20 years ago. And the Louisiana representative said they just don't have that kind of money.

Moon: And yet the question remains, is it safe really? Do we know?

Troeh: Well both the EPA and the FDA were in town, and they say that zero samples have come back showing oil in the seafood. They haven't seen oil or the dispersant building up in the tissues of oysters, crab, shrimp or fish. But for the long-term, you know for next year's catch, they really can't be sure. And the state governor, Bobby Jindal, has actually asked BP for more than $170 million to pay for testing for all of the seafood for the next two to three years or longer. Because the industry is very aware that just one incident, you know if one person gets sick, it's just all over for Gulf seafood. So the stakes are very high.

Moon: Mmhmm, and so all the goings-on at the food expo now, how much fishing is really going on in Louisiana?

Troeh: Well 70 percent of Louisiana waters are open for fishing. They're hoping for 85 percent by next week, and that's when shrimp season starts. And some big-name chefs who are in town say they are cooking with Louisiana seafood, but they actually feel the need to eat it in front of guests in some cases. They're also using maps to show them where the seafood's coming from. Plus the Super Bowl winners, the Saints, will be at the White House today, and they're bringing the seafood folks along with them. And they hope that images of President Obama eating a little bit of a 30-foot-long shrimp po-boy will do some good for the industry.

Moon: Well I'm heading down there in a few weeks, save some for me, Eve.

Troeh: I will do so, Bob.

Moon: Thanks a lot.

Troeh: Thank you.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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