NEW ORLEANS - The Louisiana Departments of Health and Hospitals, and Wildlife and Fisheries, will close some fishing areas and oyster harvesting beds due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a precautionary measure.
The groups say that all beds that remain open are safe and that it will be safe to eat seafood from the Gulf and other waterways in the near future.
Scientists said they have learned lessons from studies done in other oil spills.
"The good news is that after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we learned a lot about seafood safety after big oil spills, and we found that none of the fish species sampled contained highly hazardous levels of petroleum metabolites," said Dr. Diaz.
Dr. Jim Diaz is a professor and head of environmental and occupational health sciences at the LSU School of Public Health, and he says that while fin fish in the Alaskan spill did contain some levels of petroleum, they have the ability and knowledge to swim away from contamination.
"They also have developed over time, because even before man started drilling for oil off shore, there were oil spills on land and there were oil leaks on the sea floor bed, so fish now have developed enzyme systems so they can metabolize the derivatives of petroleum," he explained.
Shellfish such as crabs, lobsters and shrimp can also get away from the spill, but not as well as fin fish and marine life such as oysters, clams and scallops can't leave the area. So it's possible that some more beds may need to be closed if biologists find problems. But Dr. Diaz says with both the chemical sampling and taste testing that the experts do now, he does not think contaminated seafood will make it to your table.
"The recommendation I would give to anybody, whether they are pregnant or not, is if the seafood smells like gasoline, if it smells like petroleum, then consider it tainted and don't eat it. If on the other hand it looks fresh, smells fresh, it tastes fresh, it's probably okay. The seafood, we know depending on the species, has a great capacity either to avoid contamination or ultimately to cleanse itself," said Dr. Diaz.
Dr. Diaz is more concerned this will be an economic disaster, not a public health risk.
"My great concern is about the marketability of our seafood and I certainly don't want that to be reduced since we supply a third or more of the seafood for the United States," he added.
Dr. Diaz says many fish have the capacity to clean themselves quickly.
He also adds that eating fish helps lower the risk of heart disease and strokes so people should not stop eating seafood.