Is Gulf Seafood Safe?

As the oil spill drags on in the Gulf — images of oiled birds and sea turtles are becoming more common. But what about Gulf wildlife that's headed to kitchens and tables? Laurie Johnson has this report on what you need to know about eating Gulf seafood.

"All the waters out off the Texas coastline are fine. The waters are still pristine and the products I'm getting are great."

That's Danton Nix, the owner and executive chef of Danton's Gulf Coast Seafood. He says most of his product comes from Texas waters, which haven't been affected by the oil spill. But he still gets questions from customers about the safety of eating Gulf seafood.

"The Gulf encompasses, I think, 7,000 miles of coastline, so there's only a portion of it that's cut off. But I think there's so much news out there about the oil spill that people are kind of assuming that the entire Gulf has been affected, which is not true."

While Texas seafood isn't contaminated, the reality is much of the shrimp and oysters served in local restaurants or sold in grocery stores comes from Louisiana and other Gulf coast states.

Christine DeLoma with the Texas Department of State Health Services says there's no reason to believe any of the seafood making its way into the food chain is contaminated by the oil spill.

"Seafood harvested from the Gulf is coming from waters unaffected by the oil spill. The State of Texas will continue to monitor the movement of oil spilling from the Deepwater Horizon, using forecast projections supplied by NOAA."

If that sounds a little rote, it's because the Health Department has been sending that message since the beginning of this whole debacle. DeLoma says if people are still concerned about eating Gulf seafood, they can see if it passes the smell test.

"Anyone who eats seafood, oysters, shrimp — if it smells like petroleum it might be contaminated so just don't eat it."

Down in Galveston, as summer crowds show up, the problem is less about safety than it is about prices.

Tracy Deltz manages Benno's Seafood on the Seawall. He says his customers trust that he serves only fresh, high quality shellfish. But he's worried about how much it will cost.

"We serve fresh oysters and the price of them went up like 20 percent right after the oil rig sunk. Now in the last couple weeks we're seeing shrimp going up."

Deltz says shrimp prices will continue to go up because pressure is on Texas shrimpers to supply other states. And the price for oysters has nearly doubled.

But despite the impact on the bottom line, folks in the seafood industry say it's still safe to steam, boil, fry, blacken and otherwise feast on Gulf Coast seafood.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...