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The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Still Haunts the New Orleans Seafood Industry

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New Orleans restaurateur Frank Brigtsen said that in some ways the effects of the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 were profoundly damaging to both the New Orleans area's ecology and psychology.

"The whole time I was watching that stupid spill cam with dispersant being injected into the spill, I thought oysters, oysters, oysters," Brigsten said.

The filter-feeding bivalves were high on Brigtsen's list of favorite foods. As undersea sitting ducks, unable to swim from harm's way, he knew they were among the oil spill's most likely victims. Sure enough, as the syrupy oil continued to gush and spread for days, then weeks, Louisiana oysters became unavailable. The spill continued for a nerve-racking 87 days, the oyster drought went on for eight long months.

Even when Louisiana oysters were again harvested, the quantity and size had diminished. Under the circumstances, that was no surprise. But what happened to Brigtsen when oysters became available was unexpected.

The chef said that he never doubted the scientific inspections that declared Gulf oysters to be edible again. He never felt he was in danger of ingesting a petroleum-laced product. Yet, he still didn't indulge.

"I bought them, I sold them, but I lost my taste for them," he said.

He still can't explain his temporary aversion, except to say he was "psychologically damaged."

The psychological impact on him and on his customers is difficult to quantify and prove, Brigtsen said, but he's sure it affected business for some time after the sinister hole in the bottom of the sea was finally shut and the seafood industry was on the rebound. It's only human nature.   
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