Is Seafood From the Gulf Oil Spill Area Safe to Eat?


Would you eat seafood that is harvested from the Gulf of Mexico? Are the shrimp, crab, and fish from the area of the Gulf oil spill safe to eat? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say they are taking steps to ensure that the seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe for consumers.

As the Gulf oil spill disaster continues, the long arms of oil are destroying the environment as well as livelihoods, especially those that involve the fishing and tourism industries. According to a Time magazine article, analysts estimate that the fishing industry in Louisiana could experience a $2.5 billion loss. An AOL news report gave Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry a $2.6 billion a year price tag, noting that it supplies up to 25 percent of the seafood to states outside Alaska and Hawaii, according to the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center and the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The FDA and NOAA, working with Gulf States’ regulatory agencies, are taking several approaches to ensure the fish and other seafood pulled from the Gulf water are not contaminated by oil. One of the first strategies undertaken was to close access to fishing areas, which began on May 2.

“Closing harvest waters that could be exposed to oil protects the public from potentially contaminated seafood because it keeps the product from entering the food supply,” according to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. The closures are modified based on how the spill trajectory changes.

While closing fishing areas is critical, the FDA and NOAA are also establishing a re-opening plan. NOAA will reopen closed areas only if it is assured that harvests from those areas meet FDA standards. Dr. Lubchenco noted that “as remediation efforts continue, it may be possible to alleviate some of the economic harm caused by the oil spill by reopening previously closed areas.”


Another strategy is a seafood sampling and inspection plan, which was created by NOAA. Soon after the spill began, NOAA collected and tested seafood of commercial and recreational fish and shellfish species from locations not yet affected by the oil. NOAA is continuing surveillance to evaluate new seafood samples to identify whether contamination occurs outside the closed area. If fish samples reveal elevated levels of oil compounds, NOAA will consider closing off additional areas.

NOAA will conduct dockside sampling of fish products and verify that fish and seafood harvests are caught outside the closed areas. The FDA has a mandatory safety program that includes all fish and fishery products. At the top of the FDA’s list are oysters, crab, and shrimp, which retain contaminants longer than finfish, for additional sampling. Finfish metabolize the oil more rapidly so the risk of exposure is less.

Another part of the inspection process created by the FDA is a focused plan to help seafood processors review their source controls to make sure documentation is accurate and to exclude any seafood items that come in from unknown sources.

About 80 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported. When it comes to shrimp, the National Fisheries Institute reports that 90 percent of the shrimp consumed by Americans is imported, and 7 percent comes from the Gulf. Thus Americans can definitely still get plenty of seafood.

Yet for those whose livelihoods depend in some way on the safety of the seafood that is harvested from the Gulf and for the many Americans who enjoy the fruits of their labors and support that industry, the efforts by the FDA and NOAA to help ensure the seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat is of paramount importance. Both consumers and fishermen now have a hotline, established by the FDA, to report contamination. The contact number is 1-888-INFO-FDA.

AOL report, April 27, 2010
Food and Drug Administration
Time magazine


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