The quote, "Watch what we do, not what we say," is attributed to John Mitchell, Nixon’s first attorney general. It can apply, however, to the behavior of consumers with respect to shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, and that will be watched carefully everyone from shrimp fishers to the owners of your local fish market. The FDA says flatly, about Gulf shrimp, "the public should not be concerned about the safety of seafood in stores at this time." Not surprisingly, a coalition led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, while not going so far as to advise anyone not to eat Gulf shrimp, thinks higher standards and more testing is appropriate, and has so advised both the FDA and NOAA.
Shrimpers themselves are of course worried about the backlash if any tainted shrimp are consumed. Similar to the dialogue I had with Jim Prevor a few months ago, there is often a difference between what we might think of as rational behavior and how consumers in fact react. Every year, a certain percentage of shrimp turn bad for reasons unrelated to oil spills; in 2010, it’s likely a consumer who gets a bad shrimp will first blame it on the oil spill.
According to an AP article reprinted in today’s Wall Street Journal, however, the reality on the ground in fish stores is less grim. It quotes the supplier to Hapuku Fish Shop, an upscale store in the Rockridge District of Oakland, as saying, "the shrimp has been nothing less than spectacular lately." The shop itself is selling about as much of the shrimp as it did before the spill.
President Obama also has put his stomach where his mouth is, serving Gulf shrimp at his birthday party.
As with any seafood, consumers of Gulf shrimp should handle it properly and apply their own smell test before cooking and before eating.