Margie Scheuermann, who has lived here for 78 years, went over her list as she waited in line Tuesday to buy local seafood at the Crescent City Farmers Market: a pair of soft-shell crabs, a pound of lump crab meat and five pounds of unpeeled white gulf shrimp.
“This could all be gone next week,” she said. “And if we don’t get fresh seafood, what are we going to do? You can’t cook.”
In good times and bad, New Orleans has always had a talent for living for the moment. So with oil from a gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico looming offshore, people here are buying and eating as much seafood as they can as fast as they can. At last Saturday’s farmers’ market, an entire load of 350 pounds of fresh shrimp, at $5 a pound, sold out in an hour.
At the P & J Oyster Company, one of the nation’s oldest oyster processors, a researcher at Louisiana State University who is studying the effect of oyster proteins on cancer cell growth called to order 25 pounds, just in case.
“You’ve got people who are scared and skeptical and want to wait it out, and people who are trying to load up,” said Al Sunseri, president of P & J.
He has not raised his prices yet, he said. But with some of his suppliers already out of stock, he knows it is just a matter of time.
There are still piles of oysters at classic restaurants here like Casamento’s, where $9 will get you a dozen shucked while you wait, but the crowds have been even more clamorous than usual.
The refrain was the same in South Mississippi, where families gathered for impromptu seafood boils, and along the Alabama shore, where seafood restaurants have rewritten menus to include seafood from other waters.
Along the Florida Panhandle, even outside the western edge that is closed to fishing at the moment, home cooks and commercial fishermen alike spent the week with one eye on the path of the oil spill and the other on the supply of grouper and shrimp.
But perhaps nowhere else in the gulf region is the fear of life without seafood as strong as it is in Louisiana. In the estuaries and marshes that make up most of the state’s 7,700 miles of tidal coastline, the mix of saltwater and freshwater creates a perfect breeding ground for sweet shrimp destined for étouffée; blue crabs whose meat is piled on seemingly every dish here; and oysters in all their cooked and raw forms. Continue reading here.