Fishermen, processors want to restore consumer confidence in gulf seafood

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Meggan Gray – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - When asked about his confidence in Mississippi seafood, Jim Gunkel of Quality Seafood immediately said, "I'm 100 percent confident in it. There's no problem with our seafood. It's all safe to eat."

Gunkel thinks if more people start believing that message, the seafood industry may finally start to rebound from this ongoing oil saga. But right now he says there's a lot of negativity preventing people from buying fresh seafood from his counter.  Fourth generation shrimper, Mark Kopszywa, agrees.

"We've got such a black label put on us that nobody's going to want to buy it, and everybody's going to be afraid to eat it.  We're going to need lots of advertisement for local seafood, 'Come down buy shrimp, crab off the boats, fish off the boats, oysters.'"

Companies like Quality Seafood have been told repeatedly that fish and shrimp in Mississippi waters are safe to eat based on extensive sampling.

"The FDA hired 100 extra people to come and inspect facilities who are processing or getting product in out of this gulf," says Todd Rosetti, Sales Manager for Quality Seafood. "And a lot of people don't realize that there's more testing going on right now than there has ever been before of products coming out of the Gulf."

And there's about to be even more safety measures in place.  Beginning August 26, dozens of seafood processors will attend a training session to learn how to detect unsafe seafood based on appearance, texture, odor and taste.  MDEQ has also ordered more tests to find subsurface oil. Just more ways officials are trying to restore consumer confidence.

As Rosetti puts it, "Until they get all these people out there, and get these tests and get these results back, you know, it's the uncertainty that everyone is scared of."

MDEQ Executive Director Trudy Fisher recently issued a statement saying, "If there is oil in the water column, we want to know about it and deal with it.  If it is not, then we want to put an end to the underwater oil assertions which is only damaging the marketability of our seafood."

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.