Experts disagree on safety of Gulf seafood


CHARLESTON, S.C. — Experts at an international conference disagreed Friday on whether it’s safe to eat seafood from the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill earlier this year.

The government says Gulf seafood is safe to eat. However, Ed Cake, president of Gulf Environmental Associates in Ocean Springs, Miss., told the International Conference on Shellfish Restoration, “We have a lot of concern about what is going on down there.”

“They’re doing the sniff and taste test,” Cake said. “We as human beings no longer have the noses of bloodhounds. I will not eat any seafood coming from the central Gulf at this point.”

After the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, some 170 million gallons of oil spewed from an undersea well. Large areas of the Gulf were closed to fishing for a time because of the spill.

Cake and others appeared on a panel discussing shellfish restoration in the wake of the disaster.

Earl Melancon, a marine biology professor at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, said he’s been asked numerous times in recent weeks whether he eats Gulf seafood.

“I do eat Gulf seafood and I do eat Gulf shrimp and oysters and crabs,” he said. “I have faith that what’s on the market is absolutely safe.”

But he said the difference of opinion among experts “just shows you how much uncertainty there is out there.”

Ashley Roth, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, said it’s not surprising some people are still wary of Gulf seafood.

“What we have is the results of testing. So there are folks who choose not to believe the results of those tests and that’s a challenge for us,” she said in a telephone interview.

Chuck Hopkinson, the director of the Georgia Sea Grant program at the University of Georgia, told the conference he recently visited New Orleans for a meeting.

“I had shrimp and oysters six days in a row. I’m still here.” he said. “But I did not eat that seafood with confidence” based on government recommendations.

He said misleading information early on from the government about the extent of the disaster and the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf “was really disheartening. So why should I believe their claim that the seafood is safe?”

“I agree wholeheartedly that the public perception of the federal response is not good,” said Kris Benson, a marine habitat specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Restoration Center in Galveston, Texas.

“The credibility issue has been very disheartening. Quite frankly I’m proud of the work my agency does and the other federal agencies do,” he said. “I think transparency is the answer.”

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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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