COLUMBIA — Kimberly Joy Perry, owner of the Mississippi Fish Shack on Broadway, said she's hearing concerns about seafood safety from customers since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform.
Perry said one woman told her the fish tasted "different" and asked if it could be due to the oil spill.
"I told her the fish was farm-raised in Mississippi and was purchased before the spill even happened," Perry said. "I hope distributors won’t be using the concern as a way to raise prices.”
Shrimp prices have been the hardest hit since the accident. Perry said shrimp from her distributor costs 20 cents more per pound since the spill began.
She said she isn't sure if the increase is due to the spill itself or is the result of suppliers taking advantage of consumer fears. Either way, she said she has no plans to pass the price increase on to consumers.
"If it goes on for a long time, I may have to adjust one or two individual dishes," Perry said. "But people still want to be able to go out and eat in this economy, and I won't raise prices across the board."
Steve Cupp, owner of Glenn's Cafe in Boonville, said he gets almost all of his shrimp and oysters from the Gulf.
"My shrimp prices have gone up 32 or 33 percent, but as long as prices remain where they are now, there won't be much of an effect," Cupp said. "It'll be a pinch for a little bit, but I expect prices will go back down."
As for food safety, he said, those fears are based on "panic and speculation."
"I haven't heard anyone voice concerns, but all that stuff is inspected anyway," Cupp said. "Concerns over safety are ill-founded."
Wild-caught shrimp prices at grocery stores have been relatively stable because of long-term buying cycles.
Keaton Smith, a butcher at Hy-Vee on West Broadway, said prices fluctuate with the market, but prices for wild U.S. shrimp are not much higher than usual for this time of year.
"Since our shrimp are frozen, we haven't seen an impact yet," Smith said. "We buy well ahead of time."
Nationally, the price per pound of Gulf white shrimp rose 35 percent in the past seven weeks, to $7.65 on June 4 from $5.65 on April 16, according to ShrimpNews.com, a website that aggregates data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had closed about 32 percent of the fisheries in the Gulf as of Tuesday.
Gulf shrimp can increase in price without seriously affecting the U.S. market because of a heavy reliance on foreign, farm-raised shrimp from South America and Asia.
The National Marine Fisheries Services reported that in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, 83 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. was imported.