The Louisiana shrimping season started this week, sparking some anxious speculation about the impact the BP oil spill will have on the industry, with consumers wondering if their shrimp cocktails will taste suspiciously like their local gas station.
But the promise of juicy, succulent fruit of the sea also gets mouths watering. As Buford “Bubba” Blue famously put it: “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. There’s shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That’s about it.”
In other words: Get in my belly! But just how safe is Louisiana shrimp and seafood? I decided to uncomfortably corner Ashley Roth, of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, and bother her with some really tough questions. Politically incorrect interview below!
SE: Okay, break it down for me. Will I die if I eat Louisiana shrimp?
AR: Absolutely not. We work closely with the federal agencies involved in testing. And the FDA, the EPA, everyone came back and said that Louisiana shrimp and seafood are safe to eat. In fact, it’s some of the safest food out there. There are other things to be concerned about, but Louisiana shrimp isn’t one of them.
SE: Last I checked, both oil and water are viscous. How, exactly, do shrimpers avoid catching oily shrimp?
AR: Well in the beginning, when the spill first happened, there were areas closed to fishing precautionarily. They were looking for oil in those areas, and kept areas closed if they needed to be. But as of Monday they opened up more waters and now more than 90% of our coast line is open to commercial fishing.
SE: So it’s not an issue of catching oily shrimp and cleaning them, but only catching clean shrimp?
AR: Oh yeah. No ‘oily shrimp.’
SE: So can I use Gulf shrimp to make my car run smoother, or should I still stick with Valvoline?
AR: I’d stick with Valvoline.
SE: If gumbo is Louisiana’s official state dish, is BP the state’s official state sauce?
AR: Oh, gosh. No. Stick with gumbo, but the official state sauce is probably tabasco.
SE: Here’s a tough one: What would a BP shrimp taste like? I imagine fruity notes with a walnut finish. The Exxon Valdez seal I ate was a little too gamey for my taste.
AR: Um, our shrimp don’t have any oil, so you won’t have to worry about it.
SE: Okay, Ms. Smarty Pants, so if we don’t have to worry about the oil, what about the dispersant? Should I specify that I’d like my next shrimp cocktail with the Corexit on the side, just to be safe?
AR: The dispersant has been tested as well. So far, all the levels of every toxin have tested great, and they have determined that there’s no cause to be alarmed about either the oil or the dispersant.
SE: Does a shrimp instinctively know to avoid an oil spill? If so, is it time to finally admit that dolphins aren’t so smart after all?
AR: That’s great. Marine life actually are smarter than people think. When they sense danger, they go in a different direction. It’s like a fire. If you sense a fire ahead, you don’t walk toward it, you walk away from it.
SE: But what about sharks? They’ve been known to swim toward wrecks in search of carnage.
AR: I don’t know about sharks. I’m just talking about Louisiana shellfish.
SE: Nice sidestep. Is Forrest Gump your favorite movie?
AR: Ha. Yeah, both Bubba and I have a passion for shrimp. In Louisiana, we go to breakfast talking about where we’re going to go for lunch. We go to lunch talking about where we’re going to go for dinner. And it usually revolves around Louisiana seafood.
SE: So what kinds of marketing tactics are shrimpers in Louisiana using to convince a skeptical public that their shrimp won’t catch fire near an open flame?
AR: What we have is data — scientific data. So we just keep pushing that data out to the public, telling them that the seafood has been tested, and they can believe in the science. That’s the message now.
SE: That’s great news, Ashley, because I suck down shrimp like I’m Kobayashi, and I’d hate to discriminate against Louisiana’s finest. Best of luck with shrimping season, and thanks for wasting 10 minutes of your valuable time answering the questions everyone else is too polite (and intelligent) to ask.