A delegation of oyster-industry leaders, the Gulf Oyster Industry Council, along with the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board is meeting with Congressional representatives and federal agencies in Washington this week, sharing the top challenges and opportunities for the Gulf coast oyster and seafood industries.
In many ways, the concerns of the oyster industry are the same as those of the Gulf coast overall: Everyone who has a hand in the robust seafood economy, from fishermen on the dock to restaurant owners, knows the importance of rehabilitating the Gulf coast as quickly as possible.
Mike Voisin, CEO of Motivatit Seafood in Houma, LA, says that the overarching message from delegation members on this visit — 10 months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — is one of recovery and rehabilitation.
“Gulf oysters and seafood are facing challenges in the marketplace,” Voisin says. “We need to support those farmers and seafood processors who are economically challenged.”
“Perception is our biggest problem,” says Ewell Smith, executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. “Many Americans still believe Gulf seafood isn’t safe to eat. We need the FDA, EPA and NOAA to step out in front to communicate to Americans that Gulf seafood has been thoroughly tested and is completely safe. Americans simply haven’t heard that message.”
The delegation are specifically asking for Congress’s help on four fronts:
- An advance ”down-payment” from the damage-assessment process — funds that come from BP’s coffers. No doubt, BP will eventually pay billions of dollars to restore the Gulf’s coastline to its pre-spill state. Leaders within the Gulf seafood industry would like to see those funds released more quickly, so the business of rehabilitation can begin.
- More transparency and fairness from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) process, overseen by Kenneth Feinberg — a process they say has not appeared methodical or fair.
- Continued funding of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference — a group of representatives who determine best handling practices for ensuring shellfish are safe to eat.
- Finally, they ask for Congress to closely monitor the way FDA treats the low risk of consumers contracting Vibrio vulnificus, a bacteria in raw oysters.