Oil spill brings uncertain future for La. seafood

Staff reports

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig has placed the upcoming seafood production season in jeopardy. As thousands of heroic individuals seek to contain the spill that is gushing an estimated 1,000 barrels a day from the seafloor, countless individuals from Texas to Florida that earn a living from seafood face an uncertain future.

The inshore shrimp season typically opens in mid-May, and major shrimp and oyster harvesting areas are located in the eastern part of Louisiana near the expanding oil slick radius.

Leake & Andersson, L.L.P., a New Orleans based law firm that specializes in litigation and international trade work, is investigating the explosion and the potential impact it may have on the domestic seafood industry. Scientists expect the oil to reach the Louisiana coast as early as Saturday, depending on the predominate winds. If the oil slick migrates inland to shallower depths where crabs and shrimp spawn, and where major oyster beds reside, the industry faces potentially catastrophic damage at a time of unprecedented vulnerability.

Edward Hayes, a partner at Leake & Andersson and counsel for the American Shrimp Processors Association, is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. “All current indicators have the oil moving inland and possibly reaching Grand Isle by the weekend. Our shrimp and other seafood industries are already suffering from successive years of devastating hurricanes, unfairly dumped imports and low demand due to the economic recession. This disaster could not have occurred at a more inopportune time for the domestic seafood industry.”

When asked if the industry is facing an Exxon Valdez situation, Mr. Hayes responded cautiously. “When Valdez occurred there was very little federal authority regarding catastrophic oil spills, with archaic rules on compensation for the environmental and economic consequences. The Oil Pollution Act now provides recovery for economic loss associated with oil discharge.”

Mr. Hayes has been approached by numerous seafood harvesters and producers to pursue potential claims. “The last thing we want to do is inflame a devastating situation, but we have been fighting to protect the domestic shrimp industry for years and it is our responsibility to make sure that shrimp and all local seafood industries survive this disaster and obtain compensation if owed.”

Mr. Hayes reports that retailers as far away as Georgia are phoning shrimp processors to gauge potential domestic supply. “Perhaps my biggest fear is that domestic supply will be hampered to the extent that retail outlets have no choice but to rely upon imports. That could be the proverbial straw for the domestic shrimp industry.”