Travel Q&A: Safety of travel, seafood in New Orleans

Travel Q&A: Safety of travel, seafood in New Orleans
June 6, 2010
By Ann Tatko-Peterson

Q: I will be traveling to New Orleans for the first time in a couple of weeks. With news of the recent oil spill in the Gulf, are there any health risks I should be aware of? Is the seafood safe to eat there?
A: New Orleans sits about 100 miles inland from the Gulf Coast, so it has not suffered the same physical and environmental damage that has befallen towns and cities on the coast.
New Orleans tourism officials also note that they are "constantly monitoring the environmental impact on our wetlands and beautiful marshes two hours to our south, bordering the Gulf of Mexico."
So, it's tourism as usual in New Orleans — except where the restaurants
are concerned.
The spill has created a wide net of fishing closures, which are starting to take a toll on fresh seafood sales. Earlier this week, some seafood markets and restaurants were reporting price increases as high as 35 percent for Gulf shrimp and oysters. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans also reported this week that some eateries, including Parkway Bakery, have removed oysters entirely from their menu.
The issue isn't safety — agencies in place long before the spill have rigorous testing policies to insure the safety of seafood in Louisiana. And officials for Louisiana's Departments of Wildlife and Fisheries, Health and Hospitals, Environmental Quality and others are exploring the implementation of a science-based seafood-safety testing program with certification labeling to provide consumers even more reassurance.

The problem is supply. Restaurants with long-standing suppliers are still getting fresh seafood, some of which they are stockpiling in cold storage. But the continued spread of the oil spill will drive down the availability of seafood, thus driving up the price in restaurants.
It's worth noting that China and Thailand are actually the world's top suppliers of seafood, so seafood won't disappear in New Orleans — it just may not be fresh, local or affordable.
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