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Bronson: Top Priority to Restore Confidence in Gulf Seafood

Consumer confidence in Gulf of Mexico seafood is at an all-time low and threatens the fishing industry for years, a problem that could be helped by less doomsday rhetoric and a commitment to more testing of Gulf products, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson said Thursday.

Bronson said seafood from the Gulf is just fine – he recently had a big plate of it with no ill effects – but American consumers are leery because of the negative talk about how bad the oil spill is.

“None of the food supply that’s been coming in has been affected by the oil,” Bronson said after leaving a Cabinet meeting. “There is no tainted food supply.”

But the market is off dramatically because of consumers’ skittishness about oil from the BP explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

During the meeting, Bronson said the commercial shellfish and fishing industries were off about 23 percent.

“The confidence level of consumers is at an all-time low on fish and seafood,” Bronson said. “Some restaurants are actually going to take the word ‘gulf’ off their menu.”

To combat the problem Bronson has asked BP for $59.1 million over ten years for expanded fish and shellfish testing to show that the product is safe.

Bronson wrote to BP’s incoming CEO Bob Dudley suggesting the company fund a plan already developed by state agriculture officials that “envisions an intensive, integrated effort to sample and analyze seafood and shellfish for spilled oil, dispersants and their byproducts as well as regulate seafood and shellfish processing and sales to prevent the processing and distribution of tainted seafood products.”

The oil company hadn’t responded yet as of Thursday.

Bronson said he’s convinced the testing will show the fish are completely safe, but said over-reactionary rhetoric about the spill may prevent people from eating Gulf of Mexico seafood for a long time.

“Until we get the confidence level of the consumer, these people in the fishing industry and the shellfish industry are going to be looking at a serious problem for a number of years,” Bronson said. “We’ve got to quit saying that things are worse than they are.”

Attorney General Bill McCollum said it’s not really clear yet what the ultimate effect of the spill will be, but agreed that so far, the science seems to say the seafood is OK.

“I’m perfectly ready to go back to The Fish House in Pensacola and eat any product,” McCollum said.

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