Unlike the people who make broad generalizations, Jerald Horst is an eyewitness to conditions in coastal Louisiana. He spent four out of the last seven days on the water, mainly in zones that have been closed as a precautionary step to commercial fishing.
In contrast to the images seen on television of marshes awash in oil, the areas where seafood is harvested are in much better shape, he reports. “I have yet to find a tablespoon of oil – and I’m talking about in the closed areas,” he says.
Horst is a retired professor of fisheries at the AgCenter at Louisiana State University (LSU), and author of The Seafood Bible series of definitive texts and recipes.
Horst says that state and federal agencies have opted to err on the side of caution and close vast areas of the Gulf to protect both the ecosystem and consumers alike.
He says what you really want to look for to determine ill effects are fish kills. And to date, he’s not seen any. “We’re not seeing any negative effects on the fish population yet. These areas are closely monitored and watched by many sets of eyes,” Horst reminds.
Barrier islands and beaches impacted by oil are the coast’s first line of defense; they are not the spots where commercial fishermen cast their nets today.
Horst says that oil impacts the taste and smell of seafood, but does not make it toxic. Oil field workers on rigs get covered in oil all the time – you see it running down their faces in rivulets… some even runs into their mouths. It may not be a pleasant thought, yet the reality is that it does not hurt them,” he adds.
Seafood exposed to hydrocarbons stink. Consumers will never experience this, according to Horst. He says there are too many checks in the system that prevent product that is not pristine from reaching the marketplace.
“A commercial fisherman is not going to haul in seafood that stinks because he knows he will lose money and waste his time,” he says. “It’s going to be rejected at the dock by processers, and chefs are not going to accept product that is imperfect.”