Gulf oil spill disaster poised to hurt local seafood costs, supply


Soon after the BP oil spill occurred, chef Simon Pesusich noticed prices starting to climb for shrimp from the damaged Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf shrimp now costs Real Seafood Co. restaurant in Toledo at least 10 percent to 15 percent more than it did, and likely will go higher if the cleanup isn't finished soon, said Mr. Pesusich, corporate chef for Mainstreet Ventures Inc., Real Seafood's parent company.

So far, the restaurant hasn't raised its menu prices, but it may have to eventually, he said.

"Unfortunately, we're all going to pay for this somehow," he said.

So far, the Gulf oil spill has not produced much in the way of price increases or seafood shortages nationally, largely because much of the seafood consumed is imported and not from the Gulf, experts said.

But wholesale prices for Gulf oysters are up 30 percent and prices for Gulf shrimp are up 45 percent, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute. Gulf production is down 60 percent to 70 percent for oysters and 75 percent for shrimp, he said.

"It is iconic American seafood," he said. "If you're someone who likes oysters, or you're someone who wants to grill Gulf shrimp, there is no substitute."

Red Lobster's oyster supplier in Louisiana temporarily shut down production Friday, so parent firm Darden Restaurants decided to let the low-volume appetizer run out at 430 of the 660 restaurants selling it, said Rich Jeffers, Darden spokesman.

The Red Lobster restaurant in Lima, Ohio, is the only one regionally with oysters on the menu, Mr. Jeffers said. Red Lobster's oyster supply should run out in mid-July.

"This is the only impact we've experienced, and it's the only one we expect to experience," he said.

Because of the spill, Rohr Fish Inc.'s shucked oysters now come from the East Coast, This costs the Toledo wholesaler and retailer about 15 percent more, treasurer Robin Chipps said.

Prices for Gulf shrimp have gone up $3 a pound for larger sizes, Ms. Chipps said. Some Gulf shrimp were harvested early so they would not be affected by the spill, hence the availability of smaller sizes, she said.

Rohr Fish already gets oyster-in-the-shell, clams, and crabs from the East Coast, but it remains to be seen whether those and other seafood prices will rise because of supply shortages, she said.

Prices for farm-raised Canadian salmon used by Real Seafood have risen, primarily because supply from Chile was disrupted by disease and an earthquake, said Mr. Pesusich, the corporate chef. Salmon that cost the restaurant $6 a pound two months ago now is more than $8 a pound, another cost that may have to be passed on to customers, he said.

Overall, about 2 percent of the seafood that Americans eat is from the Gulf. Of the total, 83 percent is imported, said Mr. Gibbons of the National Fisheries Institute. With shrimp, 90 percent of what Americans eat is imported and 7 percent is from the Gulf, he said.

Like Real Seafood and Rohr Fish, costs at Walt Churchill's Market in Maumee have risen for Gulf shrimp because of the oil spill, David Krouse, assistant manager, said.

A restaurateur, grocer, or anyone else directly affected by the oil spill can file a claim with BP for lost business or other financial damage. The oil firm has maintained it will cover all legitimate cases.

So far, nearly 73,000 claims have been filed and BP has paid $123 million to about 38,500 fishermen, shrimpers, condo owners, and other claimants, according to the company.

Claims can be filed by calling 1-800-440-0858 or at

Still, not all retailers have been affected.

Kroger Co. gets seafood from more than 50 countries, and only a small amount of the grocery chain's shrimp and oysters comes from the Gulf. The spill has not created a seafood shortage or price increases, Kroger spokesman Amy McCormick said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

or 419-724-6087.