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BP oil spill poses growing worry for US seafood restaurants

Seafood restaurants and others are tracking the BP oil spill and trying to glean just how much impact it will have on menu prices and consumer perception.

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“They ask us if the fish is from where the oil is. They ask us all time,” says Linda Blyth, who works at Go Fish!, a seafood restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Del. For Ms. Blyth, the questions are especially worrisome because her restaurant specializes in Icelandic cod, which she says is fished off the coast of Canada.

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Consumer perception “is absolutely one of biggest concerns right now,” says Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, a nonprofit advocacy group for the US seafood industry. Consumer hesitancy about seafood is not necessarily warranted, he says, considering that 83 percent of the seafood Americans consume is imported.

Oysters raise the greatest concern among consumers, and for good reason: 70 percent of this country’s supply comes from the Gulf, says Mr. Gibbons. To date, 32 percent of federal fishing waters in the Gulf are closed to commercial and recreational fishing. He says wholesalers are responding to the potential shortfall by raising prices on Gulf product between 10 and 30 percent.

It is not yet known how the oil is affecting the marine life in the Atlantic. Gibbons is optimistic, saying that migratory species, unlike species bound to a seabed, will simply move in the opposite direction of water contaminated with large plumes of oil.

“We’re watching that and certainly it’s a concern, but it’s also a different dynamic,” he says. “There’s not a lot you can do in preparing for it.”

Blyth says she worries about friends who own local crab houses, who depend on crab pulled up off the South Carolina's crab-rich coast.

For them, a movement of oil around the tip of Florida “could be detrimental” to their livelihood. South Carolina is "a hop, skip, and a jump from Florida,” she says.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature