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Seafood shop owner Craig Walls hopes the Gulf can be cleaned quickly so shrimpers can return to regular work levels.
Seafood shop owner Craig Walls hopes the Gulf can be cleaned quickly so shrimpers can return to regular work levels.

Seafood prices expected to rise in oil spill's wake

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Seafood lovers, prepare for a long, dry summer.

The late April oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to force prices up, especially for the region’s highly sought-after shrimp. The massive spill occurred just as shrimping season was beginning.

After the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this month closed off one-third of federally owned Gulf waters to fishermen, local chefs and seafood suppliers expect prices to surge.

“Shrimp will go up quite a bit, and oysters will go up quite a bit,” said Brad Lyons, executive chef at The Tower Club, which now pays $8 per pound for large shrimp. “Shrimp will probably see an all-time high.”

Since the historic and costly environmental accident on April 20, President Obama has made three trips to the region, most recently June 4. BP estimates the cost of the response was $1.43 billion through June 10.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, BP PLC engineers have worked this month to optimize performance of the company’s “top hat” containment device. BP last week aimed to ramp up the oil collection rate to 28,000 barrels a day from 15,000 barrels.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, sales of seafood from the Gulf states reached $659 million in 2008, with shrimp industry revenue from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida accounting for about $200 million.

Lyons at The Tower Club is bracing for shrimp prices of $12 to $13 per pound by midsummer. As of June 4, prices for large white shrimp – up to 12 per pound – from the Gulf of Mexico were $9.75 a pound, according to the NOAA. The price was the first reported of the season to the NOAA for the large shrimp. June 4 prices for large brown shrimp – up to 10 per pound – from the gulf were $11.65 a pound, up from $9.90 on May 14.

Lyons is also concerned that quality would be affected with shrimp supplies coming from other areas, and he’s not alone.

“When there’s a shortage and they’re losing more areas of fishing, it’s definitely going to put an impact on supply and demand,” said John Tan, who with his brother Johnson owns Ocean Zen, Five Spice and Yum Yum Bowl restaurants in Springfield. “It’s going to drive the prices up, but we haven’t felt it yet in Springfield. I’m sure down the road, we probably will feel it.”

Tan is currently paying about $5.35 per pound for medium shrimp and said he would try to absorb anticipated cost increases before passing them on to consumers.

Springfield seafood shop owner Craig Walls is hopeful that the spill will be fixed, and the government will regulate the quality of the shrimp. Walls’ Captain Craig’s Seafood Market at 1730 E. Republic Road sells a slightly different shrimp variety, one that’s priced price a bit higher than at grocery stores or restaurants.

“I use a wild-caught shrimp,” he said, noting that his costs rose by $1.25 a pound last week.

Walls, who declined to disclose the amount he pays per pound, said if the problem is fixed quickly enough, shrimpers can return in force to the waters.

“The shrimping season was just about to start,” he said. “If they get it done pretty quickly, it’ll be like Katrina. There will be a lull, and it’ll be back to normal.”[[In-content Ad]]

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