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Researchers Say Gulf Seafood Safe to Eat

Michael J. Ermarth
U.S. Food and Drug Administration via Flickr Creative Commons

Three years after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill dumped more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, ongoing sampling and testing efforts indicate Florida seafood is safe to eat.  However, many questions remain about the impact of the spill on marine ecosystems and fish populations in the long term.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been testing Florida seafood samples since August of 2010, shortly after the blown out well was capped.  “We have analyzed 3,210 seafood samples and they span finfish, shrimp, oysters, crabs, clams,  lobsters and we have found NO findings of any of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are anywhere near the levels of concern that the FDA has set,” said Jo Marie Cook, Chief of the Department’s Bureau of Chemical Residue Laboratories.

“We’ve also done over 3,000 samples of the dispersant and we also have found no levels of the dispersant at all that are anywhere near the level of concern.  And so we found that for all the samples that we’ve tested the seafood is very, very safe,” she said. That’s good news for Florida’s $223 million seafood industry which employs more than 10,000 people. 

“All of our findings to date agree with Dr. Cook’s findings that this in no way represents a public health issue to humans,” said University of South Florida fisheries biologist and marine ecologist Steven Murawski.  “Fish are very interesting critters.  They’re much like people.  They have a system that deals with toxic contaminants through their liver and their gall bladder symptoms and they rapidly eliminate these kinds of contaminants even a few days after exposure.”

The level of seafood sample testing by Gulf Coast states and the Federal Government has been unprecedented since the spill according to Murawski.  However, he said many questions remain about the future impacts of oil contamination on marine ecosystems and fish populations.

“We have oil in the marshes where many of these species reproduce and some of the marshes in coastal Louisiana remain heavily polluted and off limits to seafood harvesting,” said Murawski.  That means anglers could experience declines in some commercially important fish populations in the future.  “I wouldn’t doubt that we will start to see a few of these effects become more apparent as time goes on,” said Murawski.

While other research efforts into the impact of the oil spill continue, Cook said the state is ramping down its aggressive testing of seafood samples.  The Bureau of Chemical Residue Laboratories seafood testing analysis is updated monthly and available at www.freshfromflorida.com.