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Oil spill hits Houston's menus: Is seafood safe? Yes, but it might not be cheap

Oil spill hits Houston's menus: Is seafood safe? Yes, but it might not be cheap

Attention Houstonians: Your seafood is safe to eat. It just might cost you a little bit more than you're used to.

Since the oil spill started in the Gulf last month, prices for shrimp, crab and oysters have gone up as restaurants across the country, fearful of a shortage, ratcheted up demand. But the effects on local restaurants are mixed.

"It's more of a fear than a reality right now," says Bill Floyd, co-owner of Reef, about skyrocketing prices and crop shortages. "Shrimp is probably up 15 percent, crab up 15-20 percent, but there shouldn't be much of an impact on fish, since they live below the surface where the oil is. For oysters the Gulf season was really already over, but prices will be higher because soon the only options will be to import them from Washington or the Northeast. But it's complicated because we've made a name on Gulf Coast products."

Despite rising costs, Floyd says Reef has not yet passed on the increases to their customers.

"Everyone's concerned, 'Is there oil in my shrimp?' but the reality is that fresh shrimp is really rare. Most shrimp that you eat today was caught three months ago and frozen. So we'll have to see the extent that this plays out with supply and demand over the summer. If they don't have a shrimping season at all in the Gulf, that wipes out about one-third of the supply. But it also means that the shrimp beds can retrench and will be even more plentiful next year," says Floyd.

But some are taking a decidedly less laissez faire attitude. Pappas Restaurants Inc. filed suit against BP, Halliburton, Cameron International and others on May 13, alleging that the spill harmed their business according to the Southeast Texas Record.

"On balance, the leak caused by the defendants and needlessly perpetuated by the defendants is ruining plaintiff's ability to obtain the necessary food to serve at its restaurants at fair price," states the petition, filed in Galveston's second county court. "The plaintiff has seen and will experience a steep increase in costs and a sharp decline in patrons, sales, and overall business as a result of this disaster."

Shortages are already starting to crop up around town. Goode Co. Seafood on Wednesday was out of oysters and soft-shell crab. And Goode's menu market price for Gulf red snapper is up to $24.

Around 45,000 square miles of fisheries have been shuttered by the spill, and it's causing price increases in seafood that's not even from the Gulf, according to ABC News. Fish that normally sells for $2.50 a pound are going for $3.25 a pound today.

Even Floyd tempers his optimism with concern.

"We've been watching it closely every day, and so far it hasn't really been an issue," Floyd says. "But if they don't get this leak capped soon, it could be catastrophic."

Oysters on the half-shell
Baked white fish
Places-Food-Truluck's crab
Soft-shell crab claws Photo by Gary Wise