Catch of the Day

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia Reed

Gulf seafood may be the most tested, and safest, fish you can find.

When President Obama took his August microvacation along the Gulf of Mexico, he swam in the water, munched on fish tacos, and said, "Let me be clear. Seafood from the gulf is safe to eat." He'd already dined on some during a trip in June and lived to tell, but post-BP seafood has been a tough sell. "People see the images and think, automatically, it's over," says Ralph Brennan, whose family owns 12 restaurants in New Orleans and who battled the same misconception five years ago, after Katrina. "It's a perception challenge."

The thought of 200 million gallons of oil spewing into the gulf is enough to give anyone pause, but at this point, you'd think folks would be clamoring for almost any alternative to the half billion suspect eggs the feds began recalling the same week as the president's outing. Gulf fishers--shrimpers, in particular--have had a tough time of late. Many had only just rebounded from Katrina when the well blew less than two weeks before the opening of the season. Worse, over the last 15 years they've lost the bulk of their market share to foreign imports. More than 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in this country comes from Thailand, China, India, and Ecuador, where the shrimp is raised in ponds so overcrowded, they also serve as breeding grounds for salmonella, bacteria, and parasites, which are combated by adding massive doses of antibiotics and fungicides to the water. Then there's the taste and texture, which Dave Pasternack, chef at Manhattan's Italian seafood mecca Esca, calls "disgusting."

Given the imports' lovely provenance, it's ironic that Americans are now squeamish about the catch in the gulf. We spot-test less than 2 percent of the shrimp that comes in, compared with the 20 to 30 percent required by the European Union. Contrast that to what's going on in the gulf, where waters must be free of oil for a month before fishing is allowed. …