Survey of Coastal Seafood, Restaurant Industries Under Way

AUBURN, Ala. — Seafood fishers, processors and wholesalers as well as seafood restaurant chefs and owners are the focus of a survey under way along the Alabama-Mississippi Gulf Coast aimed at evaluating how those involved in the seafood supply chain are faring after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Stefanie Christensen, a master’s student in Auburn University’s College of Agriculture, began interviewing members of the seafood and restaurant industries in late June and will continue into the fall as part of a working waterfront inventory project funded by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium. Her goal is to assess the oil spill’s impact on businesses involved in the shellfish supply chain, which includes shrimp, oysters and crab.

In 2007 and 2008, Auburn agricultural economics professor Diane Hite and a multidisciplinary research team from across the Auburn campus conducted an MASGC Working Waterfront project in Bayou La Batre to promote and provide leadership in maintaining a sustainable working waterfront along the Gulf Coast, the socioeconomic status of which is vulnerable to such threats and disturbances as severe weather, rapid population growth, technological disasters and economic downturns.

Results from that study already are being used to help direct disaster response strategies, preserve rural communities and aid local policymakers as they formulate plans for future growth and change. That study, however, was limited to one community and occurred before the Great Recession and Deepwater Horizon spill. The new two-year project is focusing on the effects of these shocks across all Alabama and Mississippi coastal communities.

The 2012-14 project again involves researchers from multiple disciplines who are updating the baseline economic conditions of the area, looking at the impact of disturbances on coastal tourism and the seafood supply chain and gauging the short-, medium- and long-term economic impacts of these disturbances on Alabama and Mississippi.

Working under the direction of Michelle Worosz, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Christensen is focused on the supply chain part of the puzzle and is conducting confidential, face-to-face interviews with as many seafood fishers, processors, wholesalers and restaurateurs as possible. She aims to learn how the oil spill and other disasters affected these businesses, how they are faring post–oil spill and how they view the effectiveness of food safety testing procedures and regulations in helping improve consumer confidence in Gulf Coast seafood.

“This data is critical to putting a face to the economic data,” Worosz said.  “It will provide a detailed case study that represents the lived experiences of individuals who are central to working waterfronts. They are dependent on a natural resource for their livelihood and, thus, are vulnerable to both natural and technological disasters.  What’s more, they are vulnerable to events or activities that may threaten the safety of shellfish, as they are dependent on consumers’ willingness to buy Gulf seafood.”

“To really understand the oil spill's impact, it's important for us to hear firsthand how people involved in this industry dealt with the disaster," said Christensen who has scheduled initial interviews with some members of the seafood supply chain and will be asking them for referrals to reach others in that industry sector. 

Anyone interested in participating in the survey can contact Christensen at 251-463-6462 or skc0014@auburn.edu

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Auburn University College of Agriculture
Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station
AUBURN, AL 36849
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