As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico spreads over fishing waters hundreds of miles away, some Middle Georgia seafood sellers are nervous.
“I get 99 percent of my seafood out of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Loris Spann, owner of Seaways Seafood II on Green Street in Warner Robins. “If it gets into the Gulf Stream, I’m going to go out of business.”
It’s still a little early to determine the impact the BP oil rig explosion will have on the nation’s seafood and restaurant industry. Some of the seafood sold in grocery stores, fish markets and restaurants come from states other than those off the Gulf Coast and from other countries.
But Spann said he buys all his seafood from one supplier and that supplier has stopped all trucks from going to Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, he said. The supplier is only going to Florida and the East Coast for seafood.
“I want my fish the next day, and right now I’m in a world of hurt,” Spann said.
Spann normally gets a truck every day, and goes through five to six tons of fresh seafood every week, he said.
“My truck (driver) called me (Wednesday) and he said, ‘Sorry, I’ve got nothing,’ ’’ Spann said. “I’m going into my fifth year here, and I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat.”
Some customers already are asking Spann if his seafood is oil-tainted, he said.
“(The oil) hasn’t made it to Florida yet, so I’m praying and doing all I can to keep product as low as I can and keep as much product as I can,” he said. “It’s up 30 percent already. It’s going to go higher.”
Veronica Del Mastro, co-owner of Gulf Seafood on Broadway and Eastside Seafood off Emery Highway in Macon said that while she gets oysters and shrimp from the Gulf, so far the business has not been affected by the oil spill.
“A lot of my fish comes from Virginia on down (the coast),” Del Mastro said. “I don’t get much fish from the Gulf. ... If it starts coming up the East Coast, I will affect us. ... We are holding our breath.”
Wendell Henry, assistant meat manager at the Kroger grocery store on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard, also said most of the seafood they sell comes from outside the Gulf and, in fact, from outside the U.S.
“So we haven’t had any problems yet,” Henry said.
However, the store is not selling oysters now.
“We are waiving that right now to keep from having any problems,” he said. “So it is affecting some supply on some items.”
Brenda Reid with Publix Super Markets said because nearly 80 percent of the seafood sold in the U.S. is imported and a majority of the rest comes from Alaska and New England, the oil spill is not causing any problems at stores.
“Wholesale shortages and exorbitant price fluctuations are not expected as a result of this spill,” said Reid, media and community relations manager for the Atlanta market, which includes the Macon area.
Skipper Zimmerman, who owns Jim Shaw’s Seafood Grill on Vineville Avenue and co-owns Fish N’ Pig on Mosley Dixon Road, both in Macon, is “optimistically hopeful” the oil spill will be taken care of before it affects him too much.
“We are worried because oysters are a big part of my business,” Zimmerman said. “If (the oil) gets into the Apalachicola Bay (Fla.) and they shut that bay down, I really don’t know what we’ll do about oysters at that point.”
Zimmerman said his shrimp prices have increased about 20 percent, mahi-mahi is up about 40 percent and grouper is up about 25 percent.
The oil spill came at a time when the restaurant business was already hurting from the economy, according to a statement from the National Restaurant Association.
“Although it is too early to quantify what this means for the restaurant industry in dollar terms, the impact will grow with each day that the situation continues,” the report states.
Zimmerman said some distributors are holding back seafood, causing higher prices and shortages in supplies.
“The guys with the big freezer houses that have the frozen shrimp are holding out for the prices to go up even more,” he said. “Everybody is real worried. ... Luckily, the Georgia shrimp season opens next week, so we hope that will help a little bit.”
But Zimmerman keeps the situation in perspective.
“I’ve been through a flood with my restaurant on Riverside in ’94 and the tornado hit the Fish N’ Pig during Mother’s Day two years ago,” he said. “So I think we can deal with a little oil spill.’’