Seafood inspectors rely on sniffing seafood caught in the Gulf of Mexico -- as one-third of all domestic seafood in the U.S. is -- as a first indicator of whether fish, shrimp and oysters have been tainted by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
Is Gulf Seafood Oil-Tainted? So Far, No Whiff of Trouble
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:
When this oil is capped permanently, heading safely into that relief well, then the healing in the gulf can begin. It has to. Though one local official, a parish president, said last night he fears oil will wash up for years to come, but those waters will get cleaner, and gulf seafood will come back. Some of it is safe to harvest now, but who insures it's safe to be served to all of us in restaurants across the country? Some answers tonight from NBC's Thanh Truong in New Orleans.
THANH TRUONG reporting:
A major line of defense against oil-tainted seafood starts with a sniff.
GARY LAPINTO: If it was a minor effect, you'd probably get a little bit of a gas taint to it, or maybe a little bit of a slight petroleum taint to it. If it was more of a parts-per-million, it would be--it would be a nasal burn.
TRUONG: Gary LaPinto is one of 10 Louisiana seafood inspectors specifically trained to examine the seafood coming from state waters still open to fishing. Since May, they've taken 12,000 samples.
LAPINTO: To this date, we haven't rejected anything that's coming in from open areas.
TRUONG: In addition to sniffing for oil, they'll also taste the samples when needed, the state's seafood industry hanging in the balance. A third of the seafood produced domestically comes from Louisiana waters.
JIMMY GUIDRY (Louisiana Health Officer): We have a $3 billion-plus dollar industry that's at risk.
TRUONG: This is puppy drum from Lake Pontchartrain. If it doesn't pass the smell test here, it's sent off to a lab for more analysis. Once there, the seafood will undergo chemical analysis. It's a process federal inspectors also follow. But even with these measures in place, there's widespread concern about what's coming from the gulf. Mara's Homemade in New York City's East Village used to sell 1600 Louisiana oysters a week, now only 200.
MARA LEVI (Restaurant Owner): First question people have when they call or come in is, `Where are they from? Is it safe to eat?'
TRUONG: At Joey's Shrimp House in Chicago they're committed to buying gulf shrimp, regardless of price or paranoia.
EDDIE DE JESUS (Chef): Our theme is 100 percent gulf, so we either get it from the gulf or nowhere else.
TRUONG: Millions of pounds of Louisiana seafood are shipped from the gulf each year, but how much of that fish makes it to the menu may depend on what inspectors can sniff out. Thanh Truong, NBC News, New Orleans.
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