Nightly News   |  May 02, 2010

Fishing industry braces for spill’s ripple effect

News that officials banned fishing in federal waters throughout the spill area is a devastating development for those who make their living in the business – one that could have a noticeable impact on the American dinner table. NBC’s Anne Thompson reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> to see you, jay!

>>> back now from venice , louisiana , with more on one of the points nbc 's mark potter made earlier in the broadcast, news that federal officials have now banned all fishing for at least ten days in federal waters in four states. this is devastating news for the people who make their living in the fishing industry . and it can also have a noticeable impact on the american dinner table and restaurant menu. here's nbc 's chief environmental correspondent, anne thompson .

>> reporter: this is something eric melrhine never thought would happen on his boat. tossing back blue crabs that his family has fished for four generations.

>> does he stay in louisiana ?

>> no, he doesn't. that crab right there, we were selling today. tomorrow, he'd be on a plate in baltimore.

>> reporter: this is the start of the ripple effect of this disaster. in baltimore, wholesalers see the impact of fewer louisiana oysters, crawfish, crabs and shrimp.

>> we're already hearing that shrimp have gone up a couple dollars a pound on our end, so it's probably going to be a substantial jump.

>> reporter: the bounty from louisiana 's waters produces nearly one-third of the seafood america eats. at the moment, almost a quarter of the state 's fishing areas are closed. they are east of the mississippi and in the path of the spreading slick. those west of the river are still open and they yield the vast majority of the seafood. safe for now, but could be impacted if the winds and tide shift. federal officials are testing water and seafood for contamination, though today it closed fishing in federal waters throughout the spill area, the government insists what's commercially available now should not pose any health risks.

>> while we can eat them, we will. who knows when we'll get them again.

>> reporter: louisiana law requires seafood distributors to trace the origins of the fish. that says the manager of galatore's in new orleans should give customers confidence.

>> we know who the fishermen was, if we really want all that information.

>> reporter: the information crabber eric melrhine wants to know is much harder to get. you and i may pay a few more dollars for the shrimp and crab and oyster that we love, but these fishermen could pay with their jobs, their homes, and their culture, lester .

>> you know, anne, you and i hear the same thing talking to these fishermen. the frustration is, nobody can tell them anything, how long this is going to go, how long. in the long-term, what are they talking about doing?

>> some of them are talking about going to work for bp and laying booms out there, but others say, that's like working for the enemy. a lot of these fishermen live hand to mouth and what they want to know, if they can't fish, then who's going to help them hold on to their homes, and as they say, it's part of their culture. it's their way of life . they've got saltwater running through their veins.