PUTNAM VOUCHES FOR SEAFOOD Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion at The Atlas Oyster Bar a roundtable discussion with community leaders. Putnam had just finished an appearance with Mayor Ashton Hayward on “Morning Joe” during which they touted the safety of Gulf seafood.
The Department of Agriculture has successfully negotiated a $20 million settlement from BP—$10 million for testing and $10 million for advertising and marketing our seafood.
“There are lots of pieces to the puzzle when it comes to this issue,” said Putnam, who served in Congress for 10 years prior to winning the commissioner post in 2010. “There is the Feinberg/claim piece, the lawsuit piece and the seafood safety
piece. Seafood falls in our wheelhouse.”
Putnam said that his department has the best labs in the nation. “Other states sent us their samples to be tested in our labs.”
To date, 200 samples have been tested. Only 11 percent had even the minutest traces of oil. The $10-million grant will allow the testing to be expanded to 80 samples each month for the next three years.
“The science tells us that we have absolutely no reason to have any concerns about our seafood,” Putnam told the group. “We have the most tested seafood in the world.”
The problem for the state is public perception, according to Putnam. The health concerns about Florida seafood had died down during the holidays, but as the anniversary of the Deepwater explosion approached, his agency saw an increase in concerns.
“Our research shows that closer to the water, the residents are less concerned about the seafood. It’s in the interior cities and the college towns (Tallahassee, Gainesville and Orlando) that we see the greatest concerns.
The Department of Agriculture did buy a full-page ad in USA Today to promote our seafood. It has created an online tutorial for restaurant workers to help them deal with questions from customers about seafood. They are developing a website on which the public can enter the tag number of the snapper that they bought and find out who caught it and where.
“The oil spill is our most recent body blow, but it’s not really the only blow our seafood industry has taken over the past few years,” said Putnam. “We’ve dealt with rising fuel prices, recession and the BP spill. It’s important we save this industry for this state.”
Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, Ray Boyer of Maria’s Seafood and others expressed concerns about future seafood production. “If I was king for a day and had BP’s checkbook, I would establish a system of hatcheries for stock enhancement and renourishment,” said Putnam.
BP FRUSTRATION IN Publisher Rick Outzen sat on a panel at the University of West Florida regarding the BP disaster: what happened, what did we learn, and where are we now? The panel included Dr. Dick Snyder, director of the UWF Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation; Dr. Rick Harper, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development; Keith Wilkins, Escambia County’s deputy chief of neighborhood and community services; and Dr. Enid Sisskin, adjunct Professor at the University of West Florida, teaching Environmental Health and Environmental Toxicology.
“Frustration” was the word that Snyder believed best summed up his feelings about how the oil spill was handled. Without any BP, state or federal funding, he and his team collected water and sand samples, monitoring for invisible presence of crude oil. He pointed out that we know very little about the Gulf of Mexico because the federal government only spent a fraction of the funds on the Gulf that it spent researching and studying Chesapeake Bay, California coast line, Hudson River or Great Lakes.
There was very little baseline data on the marine life, currents and hatcheries. Currently there are 26 projects by state universities on the Gulf that are funded by a grant from BP. Four projects are being conducted by UWF.
“The good news is the oil is mostly gone,” said Snyder, who said that his samples have been getting non-detects since August. Bacteria have eaten a great deal of it, but what isn’t known is the impact on the plankton that feed on that bacteria and on the fish that feed on the plankton. While there are plenty of big fish now, we don’t know the impact on eggs, larva and juveniles.
Dr. Rick Harper said that the economic impact of the oil spill has rippled throughout our economy. “The distress is spread broadly,” he said. Of the state’s eight tourist regions, Northwest Florida is the only one solely dependent on the 10-12 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day. “We are the most seasonal economy in Florida,” said Harper. “Tourism is our largest taxable sector with its bed taxes and gross receipt taxes.”
While the loss of income is simple to calculate, the impact of the spill on companies’ balance sheets and values is much harder to do. To date, BP and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility have been unwilling to payout on those claims.
Keith Wilkins said that Florida is the only state without an onsite state coordinator at the Incident Command in Louisiana. Since Gov. Scott has put a moratorium on all out-of-state travel, DEP has not sent anyone over there, even though they have the funds to do so. The county has offered to send a person, but DEP has refused the request.
POLL SHOWS DOUBTS ABOUT SCHOOLS The public isn’t happy with the direction of the Escambia County public schools. Despite statements by school district officials that classrooms are safe, people are concerned about school safety.
The IN and Open Market Research, Inc. conducted on April 18 a survey of Escambia County residents on the direction of Escambia County public schools and safety in the classrooms. Only 16 percent of 390 surveyed felt the school district was going in the right direction. More than twice that percentage (35.4 percent) believed the district was going in the wrong direction.
When asked about school safety, nearly 46 percent of those surveyed were concerned about safety in the public schools—just 10.3 percent were satisfied with school safety.
At what level is the public most concerned about school safety?
High School: 25.6 percent
Middle School: 16.4 percent
Elementary School: 14.4 percent