Oil spill triggers price hike

Published 11:31 pm Saturday, May 15, 2010

BILOXI (MCT) — Prices of shrimp and oysters around the Gulf Coast are rising as restaurants and seafood retailers experience shorter supply and higher costs due to the oil spill.

“Things are getting harder,” said Artie Desporte, owner of Desporte & Sons Seafood Market and Deli in Biloxi.

Prices for shrimp and oysters fluctuate daily, Desporte said. His selling price for jumbo shrimp has gone from $4.99 to $5.99 per pound, and oysters have gone from $15.99 a quart to $18.99, he said. Because of the low supply from the Gulf, some of what was bought locally is now being sold out of state, sometimes causing suppliers to use frozen rather than fresh seafood. In turn, seafood costs for buyers are going up. Desporte said his suppliers tell him they don’t know whether they’ll have product or not.

“The supply for oysters is close to being down to nothing,” said David Kidd, owner and manager of Lil’ Ray’s Po-boys and Seafood in Gulfport.

Lil’ Ray’s restaurants have had to adjust prices to account for rising seafood costs. Kidd said the cost of shrimp has gone up 30 percent and oysters 12 percent. Lil’ Ray’s has raised menu prices for shrimp and oyster dishes to compensate for half of its increasing product costs.

A message on menus reads: “We hope this will be a temporary solution.”

Kidd believes his customers understand the reasons behind the price increases.

“There’s been a very positive reaction from customers,” Kidd said.

Posted outside the restaurants is a news release from the Department of Health, the Department of Marine Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality verifying seafood is safe for consumption. Kidd said the restaurants’ business has remained steady.

Some consumers are still wary about the safety of the Gulf Coast seafood.

Snapper’s Seafood Restaurant in Biloxi gets a lot of questions from customers about the seafood supply, said David Mason, bar manager. He said Snapper’s gets its seafood from Desporte & Sons, which is tested regularly and deemed safe to consume.

The restaurant has not changed its prices and still receives the same supply of seafood it did before the oil spill, Mason said. However, the establishment has been hurt by the decrease in tourists to the area.

“It’s slowed down a bit because tourists aren’t coming to the beach,” Mason said.

Desporte said when the news of the oil spill first broke, it brought in a great demand of customers. Some came in with freezers to stock up on seafood. Now he’s noticed customers are coming in less.

Desporte & Sons has been in business for 115 years and supplies seafood to casinos and restaurants across the Mississippi coast. Desporte has been in the family business most of his life and has never seen anything like what’s been happening since the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.