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While it's true that shrimp are indeed harvested in other parts of the world, for those seeking sustainable American wild-caught shrimp, the Gulf has long been an important source. According to a Seafood Watch report, 90 percent of the landings of three major species of shrimp come from the Gulf of Mexico. The predominant species found in the Gulf are brown shrimp. Pink shrimp are harvested near southern Florida, and white shrimp are found near Louisiana and Texas.
As of noon Monday, NOAA had closed more than 78,000 square miles (or 32 percent) of the Gulf to commercial fishing, including shrimp.
Rick Leard, deputy executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, says it's difficult to predict how the spill will affect the shrimp fishery in the region. Shrimp spawn offshore, and the larvae make their way into the bayous and bays. What that means for future stocks is unclear.
"Virtually all of Mississippi and Alabama are being affected by state and federal closures. And we have a cooperative closure with Texas that always occurs from May 15 - July 15. Shrimping is occurring in federal waters and off parts of the coast of Louisiana and Texas. NOAA is continually moving the closure line so harvest won't occur in areas where the oil is located," says Leard.
According to the National Fisheries Institute, 7 percent of all shrimp eaten in the U.S. is harvested from the Gulf. Industry promoters are worried the reputation of Gulf seafood has been deeply tainted by the spill, and are working hard to get the message out that Gulf seafood on the market is safe to consume. NOAA has been conducting chemical testing and has been training inspectors to sniff out the scent of oil on seafood.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide has a scheduled update on the calendar for July 1. It's uncertain if recommendations for seafood harvested from the Gulf will change.
"Our Seafood Watch team is monitoring the situation closely, though we have not yet changed our recommendations about fish and shellfish from the Gulf region," says executive director Julie Packard on the Aquarium's blog. "If the oil spill changes, the abundance or safety of these species, we'll reflect that in updated seafood reports and Seafood Watch recommendations. Until there is a change, you can support beleaguered fishing communities by continuing to select Best Choices and Good Alternatives when you buy seafood from the Gulf."