Restaurant Owners Brace For Oil Slick Impact

JACKSON, Miss. (May 5, 2010 - ABC—Seafood restaurants in central Mississippi are bracing for higher seafood prices and shortages. Depending on where the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico spreads, the oyster, shrimp and crab industry could be devastated.

Seafood distributors cannot say exactly how the oil slick may affect the availability of seafood, but they all agreed that it would be terrible for the economy.

Local restaurateurs said they are keeping an eye on the situation.

For 21 years, Sal and Phil's restaurant has prided itself on serving fresh seafood.

Video: Oil Spill's Impact on Local Seafood Restaurants

In a given week, the restaurant goes through 1,500 pounds of shrimp and more than 3,000 oysters on the half shell. The owner said 80 percent of that seafood comes from the Gulf of Mexico.

"I am safe as it looks for the next two weeks. However, it depends on the slick. If it continues, we are going to be shut out of seafood completely," Sal Todaro said.

Fishing is already shut down east of the Mississippi River for at least 10 days.

Seafood distributors said they are ordering shrimp from foreign countries to stem off shortages. Workers said only about 9 percent of the shrimp eaten nationally is produced in the U.S.

However, when it comes to oysters, it's a different story. If the oil slick hits oyster reefs in the gulf, it could wipe out the industry for years.

"It's pretty tragic right now," Congress Street Bar and Grill owner Debbie Rankin said.

Rankin just opened her restaurant last week. Her distributor told her to brace for higher shrimp prices.

"We'll just do what we have to do. It usually goes up but then it will come down," Rankin said.

That's if restaurants can still get the seafood at all. Todaro said he could be left without shrimp because he refuses to buy imported shrimp.

While he worries about the effects on his business, he can't help but worry about the gulf coast fishermen who could lose their businesses because of this oil slick.

"Our prayers are with the people whose livelihood comes from seafood from the Gulf of Mexico," Todaro said.

Some restaurant owners are already talking about suing BP for their losses.

For now, most restaurants said they are stocked for the rest of the week and into next week, but after that they do not know if it will be difficult to get seafood.

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