In light of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, some consumers are concerned about the safety of seafood from the region. According to a report released by CNN, 40% of the fish harvested in the lower 48 states comes from the Gulf of Mexico, but most seafood (80%) consumed in the united States is actually imported. Still, some may be wondering what is being done to ensure seafood safety.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the u.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say they are monitoring the safety of seafood from the Gulf and have closed oily waters to fishing. Additionally, they are testing thousands of samples for contamination, of which they have yet to find a contaminated specimen. The agencies announced they are taking additional steps to enhance inspection measures to ensure seafood in the region has not been contaminated by the oil spill in the gulf. Measures include increased seafood testing inspections, precautionary closures of fishing areas and a re-opening protocol to ensure that no contaminated seafood escapes into the public. According to FDA, the public should not be concerned about the safety of the seafood sold in supermarkets.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg was in Mississippi July 30 to reopen the waters to commercial fishing as well as reassure the communities and consumers that seafood harvested from the Gulf waters does not pose any health risks. “Through close coordination with our state and federal partners, we are confident all appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that seafood harvested from the waters being opened today is safe and that Gulf seafood lovers everywhere can be confident eating and enjoying the fish and shrimp that will be coming out of this area,” she said.

For people who want to research the matter on their own, some Web sites now feature a “seafood watch” section. For example, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has added a Seafood Watch so people can follow the progress of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, learn about seafood recommendations and sustainable options ( The National Fisheries Institute and FDA Web sites also have similar seafood watch updates. Retailers can visit these sites to check for updates on the seafood market, or direct customers there to calm their concerns about seafood.

Mike voisin, past president of the National Fisheries Institute, a nonprofit organization that tracks the fishing industry and advocates seafood safety regulations, told CNN, “No company wants to put that kind of product on the market. And those areas that have oil in them will be blocked by state health officials and not harvested. The spill is certainly a huge environmental problem and a significant financial blow to fisheries.” But, according to voisin, “your food will be safe.”


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2010