Louisiana fishermen today are not only struggling with sharply reduced catches due to disruptions at normally fertile fishing grounds due to the spreading BP oil spill. They are coping an inaccurate national perception, based more on media drama than facts.
“When people see images of oil on television, it makes them think that it’s in the seafood,” says Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, vice-president of the New Orleans City Council. “It’s not. There is no seafood going to market that has been impacted by the oil spill. There’s not been a single report of contaminated seafood reaching diners.”
Brechtel Clarkson, the mother of Oscar-nominated actress Patricia Clarkson, was on hand at the Oyster Festival, held in New Orleans on a recent weekend. She participated in an oyster-eating contest but lost to Chef Andrea Apuzzo, who downed two dozen raw bivalves in just 30 seconds.
“You just saw me eat Louisiana seafood,” she adds. “I’m having a seafood boil at home on Father’s Day. I’m letting everyone know my family is eating Louisiana seafood.”
The cast of Discovery Channel’s program, The Deadliest Catch, also participated in a round of competitive oyster eating. The winner was Mike Fourtner, a deckhand on the fishing vessel, The Time Bandit, from Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
“People can trust commercial fisherman,” he says. “They know they can’t sell seafood that is inedible – there’s no market for that. You’re talking about professionals here.”
Fourtner adds that he is eating Louisiana seafood during his trip to New Orleans along with cast mates from the popular series.
Edgar Hansen, of The Northwestern, echoes that sentiment, as does his deckhand Jake Anderson. Both men say they are eating Louisiana seafood right now. “I tell the fishermen to hang in there,” adds Hansen. “Everything bounces back.”
One of the show’s stars arrived a day earlier and had a chance to meet with fishermen in Plaquemines Parish. Captain Keith Colburn of The Wizard acknowledges that negative and downright wrong perceptions may be worse than the actual oil flow.
“In Alaska, there was the notion that all seafood was tainted after the Exxon Valdez spill,” Colburn says. “But that was 1,000 miles away from our fishing grounds. Still, we saw both the price and demand for crab drop for around 18 months.”
All of the colorful characters from the program expressed concern that a way of life and the careers of multi-generational fishermen in Louisiana could be wiped out by broad generalizations, fear and ignorance.
In this video, popular actor, radio talk show personality and New Orleans resident “Spud” McConnell shares his opinion of Louisiana seafood.