Much of the culture along the Gulf Coast revolves around food. Locals and tourists alike enjoy their seafood fried, grilled, and raw. Especially in New Orleans, mom-and-pop restaurant menus feature fried food, Creole fare, and gumbo, each with a different flair. Because of this reliance on food, particularly seafood, area restaurateurs and seafood distributors have been hard hit by the BP oil spill. And even though extensive testing indicates that Gulf seafood is safe for the most part, uncertainty surrounds the issue of Gulf seafood safety, resulting in lost revenue for restaurants, seafood suppliers and the tourist industry.
Why? Most residents along the coast stretching from Louisiana to Alabama point to media coverage of the oil spill. Overstated estimates of the oil damage not only halted the purchase and consumption of seafood, but also adversely affected the number of tourists in places like Gulf Shores, Ala., last summer.
Experts like John Deveney, of Deveney Communication, which handles the PR for the New Orleans’ Office of Tourism, says the seafood is the “safest consumable product in North America,” given its rigorous testing. The water is tested. The fishermen test their boats and equipment before they leave, while they fish and when they dock. The fish are tested at the processing plants, by the suppliers, and finally at the restaurants. However, the general perception, according to Deveney, is that the food is “unsafe, unaffordable, and limited.”
Perception, or rather, misperception has been a major issue throughout our journey to understanding the communication efforts surrounding the BP oil spill.
Researchers and scientists continue to study the possible repercussions of the oil, current and future. By all accounts, it will be years before we understand the real impact of oil on marine life. Therefore, it’s reasonable to question whether or not the seafood is safe for consumption.
Nevertheless, the majority of our group enjoyed the seafood every chance possible, and, thus far, there have been no incidents. We may not be official test subjects, but 13 out of 13 sounds like a decent statistic.