Oil spill effects to hit home

ALABAMA (June 11, 2010)—Since the BP-leased oil rig exploded April 20, millions of gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. The long-term effect is as yet unknown, but short-term effects to the seafood industry were outlined by Sysco Corporation’s Chris Flint Wednesday.

Flint is vice president of merchandising for Sysco’s Geneva plant. Sysco is the largest distributor of seafood in the United States.

“Only 20 percent of the seafood consumed in the United States is produced in the United States,” Flint said. “However, the Gulf of Mexico produces 65 percent of all seafood that is produced in the United States.”

While the effect of the oil spill is still unfolding and the full extent of the damage remains unclear, the real challenge will be getting a good measure of the long-term impact, Flint said, adding it very much depends on where oil travels and how long it stays over a particular area. “To picture the area of the oil spill, visualize the slick stretching end-to-end around the tip of Long Island to Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Flint said 35 percent of the Gulf has been subjected to closures. The Gulf produces 73 percent of the nation’s domestically-produced shrimp and 59 percent of its oysters, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service website.

“The closure of key shrimp and oyster fishing areas has pushed prices higher,” Flint said. There is a “run“ on shrimp due to the oil spill, he said, adding that prices of imported seafood have increased due to the increase in demand. “Prices are up more than $2 a pound wholesale,” he said. “Production cannot be increased quickly enough for the demand.”

Consumer flexibility on species and country of origin of seafood they purchase will be key to maintaining supply. Oyster beds in Texas and Apalachicola, Fla., are still open, Flint said. “Some beds in Louisiana have been reopened.”

Alternatives Flint suggested included fresh-water farm-raised catfish, tilapia, cod fish, crab clusters, halibut and salmon. “Think Northern species,” he said. “Our suppliers are an integral part of our business,” Flint said. “We have a tremendous network of suppliers and feel very fortunate in this.”

The corporation also has 120 full-time quality assurance specialists on staff conducting ongoing testing for species verification and contaminants. “We did quality assurance even before the oil spill,” he said.

“Sysco takes a proactive stance on standards,” Flint said. “We’ve always been preparing for things you don’t even know are coming.”


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