Seafood From The Gulf At Risk

Host Liane Hansen speaks with Mike Voisin, past president of the National Fisheries Institute, about the potential impact of the oil spill on the Gulf Coast seafood industry.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Joining us now is Mike Voisin. We visited his family's oyster business in Houma, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. He's a longtime spokesman for the industry and past president of the National Fisheries Institute. He's on the phone. Hi Mike.

Mr. MIKE VOISIN (Past President, National Fisheries Institute): Hey, Liane, how are you?

HANSEN: I'm fine. But hearing the accounts of what's happening in the Gulf right now, this has the makings in many accounts to be a huge environmental disaster. What happens to sea life when touched by an oil spill like this?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, what happens to it is that it will leave the area. If it's fish then it can swim, if it's crabs then it can move. It's like walking up towards a burning building. You see it so you turn away but then you'd feel it and you'd turn away. Same will happen with sea life. One of the challenges is that a lot of sea life today is in its larval stages so it can't. It doesn't feel and it can't run. So, if it gets coated, it could die in some of those larval stages.

We're in the springtime right now and there's a lot of reproduction of all the species occurring out there.

HANSEN: But what's the likelihood of a lot of fishermen actually losing their livelihood for perhaps a year or more?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, you know, just Friday evening the state of Louisiana closed pretty much all of the fishing grounds east of the Mississippi River. The oil and gas industry is doing what it can. And, of course, we're out there. We've got a fishing armada out there. They've signed up, I think, three or four hundred fisherman, that as soon as this weather - we're having a front come through this weekend and there's lots of wind - as soon as the weather calms down, they'll get out there and they'll start skimming up that oil, congregating it. They'll be burning some of it off, using dispersants to get rid of some of it, some bio-remediation work that they're looking at.

There's all kinds of different efforts being put forth to try to resolve this challenge.

HANSEN: But if - it is a challenge and it's not yet resolved, this it could have a major impact on the industry.

Mr. VOISIN: Well, it can. And, you know, we in Louisiana, the seafood community is a $2.4 billion total economic impact annually. About 77 percent of all our seafood is produced west of the river that is yet to be impacted, and that's why we're so excited to hear, hopefully soon, that they'll get that valve shut down and we'll be able to at least deal with a finite amount of spill and recover that as best we can, get rid of it and move forward.

HANSEN: This has really got to be a blow for all of you, given what you've already gone through with the hurricanes and such.

Mr. VOISIN: Yeah, we're, you know, this is, oh, about number five in the last five years of major events we've had to deal with. We are - we have a lot of character down here and this just continues to build that character. We'll continue to work hard and we'll clean up the environment, we'll make sure that we continue to provide that ample amount of seafood to the American consumer.

And, again, we appreciate people's concern. We're doing all that we can. The regulators are. We're working together very well to accomplish, in the end, bringing that ship in.

HANSEN: Mike Voisin is past president of the National Fisheries Institute. He joined us from Houma, Louisiana. Mike, thanks a lot.

Mr. VOISIN: Thank you, Liane.

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