BP’s catastrophic rig explosion resulting in tons of crude oil seeping into the Gulf Coast April 20 may have not been introduced into Galveston’s waters just yet, but the seafood industry and Houston restaurants are most certainly feeling the aftermath of the worst spill in U.S. history.
Local restaurant owners are facing problems with supply and demand, rising prices of underwater delicacies, public perception of the quality of food and shortages.
On May 13, Pappas Restaurants Incorporated decided to sue BP, Transocean and Halliburton companies as a result for their inconveniences faced. In an article from ABC13 News, Pappas Restaurants said, “the companies’ reckless negligence caused the spill, and that because of the oil and fishing ban, [their] restaurants will have to significantly raise prices and in the process will lose customers.”
In response to the large area of ocean and seafood off limits in the Gulf waters, prices of items like oysters, crabmeat and most notably, shrimp, have gone up 30 to 35 percent in cost for restaurant owners looking to supply their formerly abundant menu items.
In an article by Laura Elder with The Daily News, Charley DiBella, owner of DiBella’s Italian Restaurant was quoted that he “was paying about $5.80 for a pound of shrimp [before the oil spill]. Since the disaster, prices have shot up to $9 a pound for large shrimp.”
Since the price of seafood is soaring, buyers now purchase in bulk a month in advance, hoping to stockpile before prices rise further. As a result of buying in bulk, particularly with larger shrimp, supplies are diminishing and restaurant owners are worried they will soon be spending the same, if not more money, for smaller and lesser quality shrimp.
In Cathy Matusow’s blog for The Houston Press, Louisiana Food’s seafood supplier Jim Gossen is quoted on the predicament with supply and demand. "A customer buying 500 pounds of shrimp a week may want 2,000 pounds," Gossen says. "We've decided as a company to protect the customers that we have, provide them with the same amount they've been buying weekly, and not take on any new customers or let one customer buy everything."
Another concern for restaurant owners is Houstonians’ perception on the quality of the seafood they’re eating at local restaurants. When seeing a seafood menu that reads, “fresh from the Gulf,” it’s only natural to wonder. In reality, though, Houston seafood is safe to eat for now, because the oil has not reached our waters. Houstonians are currently able to indulge in their desired underwater favorites; they will just have to spend more lavishly for it.
Sarah Rufca quoted Bill Floyd, co-owner of Reef, in her Culture Map Houston article responding to the public’s apprehension. “Everyone's concerned, 'Is there oil in my shrimp?' but the reality is that fresh shrimp is really rare. Most shrimp that you eat today was caught three months ago and frozen. So we'll have to see the extent that this plays out with supply and demand over the summer.”
Shrimping season is supposed to resume sometime in July, but some are unsure about this year’s status. “If they don't have a shrimping season at all in the Gulf, that wipes out about one-third of the supply. But it also means that the shrimp beds can retrench and will be even more plentiful next year,” said Floyd.
Although countless efforts are being made to ensure stopping the spread of more oil through our waters, some predict BP’s spill could unfortunately affect the seafood industry for years to come. Hopefully this prediction will not become a reality, but in the meantime, Houstonians should definitely take advantage of restaurants producing safe seafood cuisines before the situation changes.
Photos: avlxyz, www.WorthTheWhisk.com and InAweofGod'sCreation's/Flickr