Though Untainted by Oil, Texas Gulf Fisheries Still Suffer BP Spill's Effect

Seafood industry watchers say it's still too early to assess the long-term effects of this summer's gulf oil spill, but agree the disaster spelled a setback for Texas' fishermen, oystermen and shrimpers.

Speaking at a panel this morning at the Southern Foodways Alliance's annual symposium, food writer Robb Walsh said efforts to promote wild-caught Texas brown shrimp as a delicacy on par with wild-caught salmon were put on hold in the wake of the spill.

"Now, wild shrimp is equated with oil," he said. "It's a huge problem for marketing."

Marketing's also been hindered by the industry's need to promote two competing narratives: While seafood distributors have an interest in persuading the public that gulf seafood's clean and safe, fishermen looking to collect on insurance claims have been stressing the breadth of the calamity. Many consumers, understandably confused, haven't gotten the message that Texas waters weren't tainted by oil.

Walsh believes the state's oystermen could help eaters -- and significantly enhance their earnings -- by creating appellations for their catch, cultivating cachet by linking oysters to certain reefs.

"What if you started branding oysters that came from a good, reliable place?" Walsh asks.

For now, though, Texas oystermen are focusing on the year ahead; the closure of public leases means they haven't been able to seed for the 2011 harvest. The current harvest looks healthy, but increased demand from consumers elsewhere means the supply may be depleted by Christmas.

"We're trying to deal with what happens when Louisiana wipes out our oysters," Walsh says.

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