Columbia seafood restaurant makes sure gulf shrimp is safe

By Ben Hoover - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico has been plugged for months, but there are still concerns about the safety of its seafood. Some U.S. restaurants are holding off on serving gulf shrimp and oysters to their customers. But one Columbia restaurant is taking steps to assure customers gulf seafood is safe to eat.

The sizzle of shrimp cooking in butter is enough to make Jerry Neely's mouth water. "We had fried shrimp, oysters on half shell, shrimp and grits, shrimp salad and it was excellent," he said.

Jerry feels better about gulf coast shrimp and oysters because his friend Bill Dukes says it is safe to eat. "Mother Nature is absolutely incredible," said Dukes, who owns the Blue Marlin in Columbia.

In the peak of the gulf oil spill, his customers started asking questions when they saw the word "gulf" on the menu. "I was very concerned and as a result what I did is I quit using gulf shrimp," he said.

He started using South Carolina shrimp. It sounds easy enough, but it wasn't. South Carolina produces five million pounds of shrimp a year, but the statewide demand is 23 million pounds. That's not enough to keep the plates full at seafood restaurants like Blue Marlin.

So Dukes headed for the gulf coast himself. He wanted to see, taste, and smell what was going on. "I determined there was absolutely no problem with the product," he said.

In Biloxi, Dukes visited a shrimp processor where they ran chemical tests on the shellfish. "There is not a risk of health safety or taste with gulf seafood," said retired USC professor of marine science John Dean. "We have this history that anytime there is a blip of any kind of a health issue, scare, all seafood suffers no matter where it occurs in the country. So this is why what they have done tonight is important, they put it on the table."

By now, you're probably wondering about seafood prices. Prices spiked during the height of the oil spill, but Dukes says prices have come back down to a good point.

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