Gulf Oil Spill: Local Seafood Industry is at Risk, But Has No Contingency Plan for Port Closures

Last Updated May 3, 2010 3:06 PM EDT

Buried in the gloomy oil-spill news is the fact that almost a quarter of Gulf' seafood beds are currently threatened by the disaster locals are already calling The Black Death. The bigger problem is the possible shutdown of ports in the region, a situation for which the Gulf seafood industry -- worth $2.4 billion a year in Louisiana alone -- seems to have no contingency plan.

Seaports in Venice, La., and Port Fourchon, Mississippi are a critical link for getting seafood to market. If the oil reaches these ports, they'll be shut down, as it's unsafe for boats to navigate through the slick, and the boats' movement further spreads the oil. The possibility of a complete shipping halt in the area conjures a vision of mountains of harvested seafood rotting on docks without a way to get to buyers. Given that cleanup from this disaster could last a generation if things go badly, the industry should finally have that disaster planning meeting it has apparently long avoided.

This is hardly the first oil spill to hit this region. Since 1990, there have been six major spills from Texas to Florida, including one in Port Arthur, Texas, in January. When your livelihood depends on a fragile ecosystem located near offshore oil wells that repeatedly foul your waters, your industry should have a plan in place for getting still-viable Gulf seafood to customers by alternative means. Right now, 77 percent of the coastline is still open, but the window may be short for getting that food to customers before ports shut down. The most pressing crisis may be transportation, not pollution.

As the vast spill nears shore, the seafood industry has no solutions, but its marketing machine has spun into high gear. "LOUISIANA SEAFOOD CONTINUES TO BE SAFE TO EAT," screams a headline on the Web site of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board. That will hardly matter if none of it can reach restaurant tables and grocery shelves.

Photo via Flickr user Nick Saltmarsh

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.