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Oil spill biting seafood in restaurants

NEW YORK (May 24, 2010)—The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is beginning to affect New York City, where prices for shrimp, oysters and clams are nudging upward. And restaurateurs and wholesalers fear that costs could increase a lot more in the coming months.

Shortly after the catastrophic accident in the gulf April 20, fish purveyors began paying more for shrimp—a product already in short supply—and for other shellfish, as well.

At the Oyster Bar & Restaurant in Grand Central Terminal, for example, executive chef Sandy Ingber is paying nearly 10% more for the 35 different varieties of oysters he serves at the landmark eatery, which has forced him to raise his menu prices for oysters by 10 cents. None of the restaurant's shellfish comes from the Gulf of Mexico, but the chef said his purveyors are getting more orders from businesses that used to purchase from the affected region.

Blue Ribbon Fish Co. is paying 4 cents more per oyster, and it doesn't carry products from the Gulf region, either.

Industry experts are most worried, however, about shrimp prices escalating, even though the vast majority consumed in this country comes from outside of the United States.

“The supply is tighter, and it's driving the prices through the roof,” said Ron Licht, co-owner of Scandia Seafood, which services the city's restaurants and high-end food markets. “It's going to affect the restaurants as people who bought a larger shrimp buy smaller [less expensive] shrimps,” essentially trading down.

Oceana, a high-end seafood eatery, purchases 50% of its shrimp from a mom-and-pop operation in New Orleans. But executive chef Ben Pollinger said the oil is now beginning to spread to the marshes where shrimp breed.

“They foresee not having shrimp next year,” he added, worrying that he will need to make up the difference by purchasing more of the product from higher-priced overseas suppliers.

Crown Fish Co. of Hunts Point is paying up to $8 per pound for shrimp from the Gulf region, or about 30% more than one month ago.

Other types of seafood could be affected by the disaster, as well. F. Rozzo & Sons, a purveyor to luxury hotels and restaurants here, buys some red snapper and grouper from Florida-based fishing companies. Proprietor Louis Rozzo said he reads the regular reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service to make sure his vendors are fishing in areas that are not contaminated by the oil spill. “It was never important for me to read those reports before,” he added.

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