Compensating those in the seafood industry and restoring consumer confidence in seafood from the Gulf of Mexico are priorities for BP, the Gulf states and the US government
The Gulf Coast is a rich breeding ground for fish, shrimp, oysters and crab and accounts for about 18% of the US’s total commercial seafood landings. Shrimp and oyster supplies, in particular, are heavily concentrated in the Gulf, making the seafood industry an important component of the Gulf Coast economy.
By the end of 2012, in addition to resolving legitimate claims made by those in the fishing and seafood processing industry, BP had paid or committed to pay $82 million to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi for state-led seafood testing and marketing programmes.
Although research and monitoring continues, many experts believe Gulf of Mexico seafood is making a strong recovery. According to government testing results and commercial landings information, Gulf seafood is safe to consume and available in numbers comparable to pre-accident levels.
Gulf seafood is among the most rigorously-tested sources of seafood on the market today. In addition to testing by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Gulf states continued to conduct extensive seafood sampling and analysis in 2012, funded from the $33.5 million BP committed to pay over a three-year period beginning in 2011.
Deputy Commissioner for Foods, FDA
"A great deal of effort was invested after the Gulf spill so that we could provide an answer to one question: Is Gulf seafood safe to eat? Yes, Gulf seafood is safe to eat, and it is safe to eat for everyone."
Since May 2010, more than 6,000 seafood specimens have been collected by the FDA, NOAA and state agencies in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Levels of residues of oil contamination in seafood have consistently tested 100 to 1,000 times lower than the safety thresholds established by the FDA. Using a new chemical test to detect traces of dispersant constituents in fish tissue, the NOAA and the FDA have found every sample tested to be far below the safety threshold established by the FDA. More than 99% of the samples tested showed no detectable residue.
Steps taken to protect fisheries
Several steps were taken during and following the Deepwater Horizon accident to protect the safety of Gulf seafood, including closing affected fishing grounds and closely testing seafood from the Gulf, under the direction of the NOAA and the FDA. Under the protocols developed by state and federal agencies, harvest waters could not re-open until oil from the spill was no longer present and the seafood samples from the area successfully passed both sensory analysis by trained experts and a chemical analysis to confirm that there were no harmful oil residues. The FDA also visited more than 100 seafood processors and wholesalers, collecting seafood samples and inspecting processing plants for biological, chemical, and physical hazards.
Collecting and testing samples
Federal and state officials continue to collect and test seafood from the Gulf. The results, which are publicly available, have found no evidence of contamination from oil or dispersants that would pose a threat to human health.
Professor of Biology, University of South Carolina
"The natural recovery is far greater than what anybody hoped when it happened. The fears of most people - that there would be a catastrophic collapse of the ecosystem in the Gulf - never materialized."
According to data from NOAA, commercial seafood landings in the Gulf in 2011 reached their highest levels since 2000. However, the results varied based on individual species and states.
- Menhaden: Preliminary NOAA commercial landings data indicate that in 2012, Gulf menhaden landings for the reduction fishery were 29.8% higher than the 2007-2009 average.
- Shrimp: Preliminary NOAA commercial landings data indicate that Gulf shrimp landings from January to November 2012 were 0.9% below the 2007-2009 average for the same eleven-month period with some variation from state to state. For example, this data shows that for January to November 2012, landings in Mississippi were 33.1% higher than the 2007-2009 average for the same period, while landings in Louisiana were 4.2% below the average for the same period from these years.
- Oysters: While commercial oyster landings in 2011 were 17% below the 2007-2009 average, many experts believe this was primarily due to flooding in 2010 and 2011, which reduced water salinity. For instance, the flooding in the spring of 2011 was cited as the cause when the US secretary of commerce declared a commercial fishery failure in September of 2012 for Mississippi’s oyster and blue crab fisheries.
- Blue crab: Volumes of commercial blue crab landings in 2011 were higher than in 2010 and 1% lower than 2007-2009 averages.
- Finfish and other species: NOAA commercial landings indicate that for both finfish (excluding menhaden) and other species that constitute the remaining commercial catches in the Gulf, the volume of 2011 landings was higher than in 2010 and higher than the 2007-2009 average.
In 2011 BP committed to provide $48.5 million over three years to the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi to develop programmes to promote Gulf seafood along the coast and around the country. At the end of 2012, $34 million had been paid out by BP.
The information on this page forms part of the information reviewed and reported on by Ernst & Young as part of BP's 2012 sustainability reporting.