NEW ORLEANS - Local seafood promoters say the Louisiana seafood brand is hurting around the country.

They say it took two years to come back after Hurricane Katrina, but with the perception from the oil leak, it could take longer.

So they took the message that the seafood is still safe to a worldwide audience Friday with an hour of live, talk radio, broadcast around the world from the University of New Orleans, to an estimated 190 million listeners.

BBC World Service gathered a panel of local people in front of a live audience to talk about their perspective on the oil leak. There was chef and restaurant owner John Besh. UNO Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Dr. Denise Reed, reminded people of the importance of the Mississippi River Delta to the world. Loyola Professor of Environmental Communications Dr. Robert Thomas, spoke of the fear of losing the local culture. And there was the son of a third generation fisherman.

'It's taken its toll on my father and he's just becoming more and more stressed, you know. He's dealt with the legislation problems. He's dealt with Katrina problems. He's now dealing with these BP oil problems, but I don't know how much longer he can last,' said Justin Barisich from a Bayou La Loutre Fishing Family.

There was a mental health worker for the fisherman.

'The wives, they came to the (mental health) meeting and that's the first thing they said, 'My husband's not going to go to a mental health clinic,' ' said Jocelyn Heintz the Coordinator of the St. Bernard Project's Mental Health and Wellness Center.

Some on the panel, including WWL radio talk show host Garland Robinette, want Louisiana to keep more of its oil royalties as other states do.

'Cajuns are very resourceful and very, very smart. If the plane is going down you don't look left or right,' said Robinette to a cheering audience. He was talking about politicians on both sides of the aisle not voting to let the state keep a higher percentage of its oil monies.

Listeners called from Nigeria, England, and Alaska, where a man who called the show said 21 years after the Valdez spill, areas of seafood production are still not back. A local Louisiana seafood promoter is concerned about people's perception.

'We still have 70 percent of our coastline is open which is a significant portion of our fishing grounds are wide open and fisherman who can go out and fish,' said Ewell Smith, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.

He's gotten calls from around the U.S. from seafood distributors who say restaurants are scared to sell Louisiana seafood or think it's out of business. He says it could take five years to get Americans to believe what several health agencies here say, that the seafood is safe.

'We've been working with EPA, FDA, Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Environmental Quality, NOAA fisheries, all those different health agencies are working collectively together, unprecedented levels of testing and so far the good news is nothing has come back showing any signs of any problems,' added Smith. 'The best way the President (Obama, who is in town) can help us right now, is to go find one of our great restaurants and eat some Louisiana seafood. We need his help.'
And going forward an actor on the panel wants the U.S. to adopt a Canadian rule.

'When you drill an exploratory well, you have to drill a relief well at the same time. If that had been the rule in the United States, this spill or this gusher, would have long since been over,' said Harry Shearer, an actor, commentator and humorist.

Seafood promoters say the ripple effect is being felt in businesses across the U.S.
One of the biggest buyers of Louisiana shrimp is in Chicago and his business is down because he is unable to get as much product as he did before the oil leak.

BP representatives were invited to be on the panel but BBC says they declined.

Read or Share this story: