Big Hit to Texas Oyster Industry Shows Government’s Big Credibility Problem


How big are the ripple effects from the BP spill? You can get an indication by looking at the Texas oyster industry, which was not hit directly by oil, but is feeling the effects of the BP-and-government credibility gusher.

The government squandered the people’s trust in this disaster, deciding at nearly every step to side with the BP – not just on large issues like flow estimates and the use of toxic dispersants and even declaring the “vast majority of oil gone” – but on smaller issues, too, like creating “safety zones” that barred reporters from cleanup areas.

So now the government sleeping in the bed its made. A case in point is that nobody believes them about seafood safety – and, consequently, the multi-billion dollar Gulf seafood industry is taking a HUGE hit. It turns out Honest Abe was right: You really can’t fool all the people all the time.

They feel this in Texas with an industry still recovering from Hurricane Ike. The Express-News out of San Antonio is reporting on the problem, and quotes a 10-year veteran of the oyster industry saying “… I’m not sure of the cause. All I know is oysters aren’t moving. People are not eating seafood.”

The paper also reports that “… Lisa Halili, vice president of Prestige Oysters of San Leon, which has operations in both Texas and Louisiana, said the industry is crippled now primarily because of unfounded concerns about the safety of gulf seafood.” She, of course, calls for an intense marketing campaign.

With all due respect to the marketing professionals, I think an aggressive campaign pushing seafood may very well backfire. Big, BP-style ads are not going to “make it right” with eating seafood. Unfortunately, the authoritative voice here – our government – has not proven itself worthy of our trust on spill issues. So with independent scientists once again contradicting the “official line,” the ads will add even more confusion to an already murky issue.

Over the course of this disaster, the government has pushed its credibility to the breaking point, essentially telling the American people that “sure, we were wrong about the flow rates, dispersant use, massive underwater plumes, oil settling on the ocean floor, the oil being gone, BUT we’re right about seafood safety.”

I have commercial fishing clients who would love to be out on the water today, doing what they do best. But my clients can’t resume fishing until they know its safe – they are not about to take their customers and their families into a risky situation. Let’s not forget that if people start getting sick from eating Gulf seafood, we can expect the industry to experience a protracted decline. Consumers won’t come back for a long time.

And there’s no way that BP and government officials can buy their way out of this problem with a marketing campaign.

The story out of San Antonio is here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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