Safety of Louisiana Fish & Shrimp

In the wake of the BP oil disaster, the fisheries off the Gulf Coast are doubly important. They’re a big source of jobs for folks in the Gulf states, and the health of the shrimp and fish there is an important indicator of the overall environmental impact of the spill.

So, news that at least some affected areas of the Gulf are being opened to fishing is important news.

Here’s the story, via the L.A. Times’ Greenspace blog: Gulf oil spill: Louisiana fish and shrimp get thumbs-up

Is Louisiana seafood safe to eat? U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on Friday heartily endorsed the decision of Louisiana fisheries officials to reopen wide swaths of state coastal waters to commercial fishing and shrimping.

“We all feel very confident with the reopening of this water to the fishing of fin fish and shrimp,” she said at a news conference on New Orleans’ riverfront. “This is our first major opening of the state waters to commercial fishing, so it really is something to celebrate.”

The reopened areas, about 2,400 square miles, are mostly east of New Orleans and the Mississippi
River Delta. Areas south of the delta, including Terrebonne and Barataria bays, are still being slimed with oil and remain shut….

The main issue being evaluated (as the FDA Commissioner points out) is food safety — not any of the other ecological measures we might be interested in. But as anyone who has thought about it for more than a minute or two knows, safety isn’t a binary, all-or-nothing characteristic. When foods are declared safe, it usually means “safe enough” or “relatively safe” or “safe, as far as we can tell.” And it’s the FDA’s job to make that value-laden decision, and it’s not an easy one. So, question for discussion: what level would be set as the “safe-enough” level (for fish from an oil-spill-affected area), if that level were to be set by:

  • A bureaucrat at a government agency with the FDA‘s mandate?
  • Someone who works on a shrimp boat?
  • Someone who owns a shrimp boat?
  • Someone who owns a seafood restaurant in New York?
  • Someone who owns a seafood restaurant in New Orleans?
  • You?

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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