Restaurants and officials fight seafood perception

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Elizabeth Vowell – email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – The seafood is safe to eat. That's the message the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Marine Resources are trying to get out to the public.

The officials who have studied and examined the oil spill since the beginning are assuring everyone that Gulf Coast seafood has passed every test and inspection with flying colors.

The people who sell that seafood to the public, agree.

"I eat it every day, and I can't tell a difference," said Michael Pickens, co-owner of Biloxi's Fillin' Station restaurant. "I serve it, I cook it. I really don't see a difference in it at all."

Despite Pickens' enthusiasm, it seems the public isn't as confident. Pickens said sales of their signature seafood dishes are down.

"People are just really scared to eat it. They're worried about the oil. They're worried about a lot of different things," said Pickens.

The Fillin' Station has everything from oysters to shrimp on the menu. Staff members say when customers seem a little skittish about eating seafood, they reassure them with humor.

"I always tell them a joke, 'It's okay, when I get the sack of oysters it always comes with the Dawn dish soap. I always wash them off first,'" Pickens said with a smile.

However others, like those at the latest seafood safety meeting, aren't laughing. And they're not easily swayed.

"I don't eat Gulf Coast seafood at this time.  I don't believe it's not tainted," said Pass Christian resident Bob Smith.

It's folks like Smith that officials, and now restaurants, are trying to reach. But for many, perception seems more powerful than test results right now.

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