Thursday, August 5, 2010

Red Lobster Faring Just Fine in the Post-Spill World

It remains unclear exactly how much damage BP's oil spill will do to the aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico, but if you're worried about one of the worst environmental disasters in decades cutting into your $11.99 "festival of shrimp," you can rest easy. It turns out some of the country's most popular seafood restaurants have placed more emphasis on the second syllable of "seafood" rather than the first.

According to Rich Jeffers, a spokesman for Red Lobster, the casual-dining seafood chain gets very little of its shrimp from the gulf—or any ocean for that matter. Instead, it grows "farm-raised" shrimp in ponds throughout South America and Asia (Jeffers mentioned Thailand specifically), and at any given moment, the company has enough shrimp to meet the demand of all 700-plus of its locations worldwide for at least six months.

Of course, maintaining such a large shrimp supply isn't easy. In order to keep so many crustaceans alive in the densely populated farms—there can be up to 170,000 shrimp larvae in a single pond an acre wide and a couple meters deep—antibiotics are pumped into the water. Environmentalists have decried such practices, arguing that they can be harmful to the local ecosystems, but Jeffers says all their farms are closely inspected and certified by the Aquaculture Certification Council.

"What I would point out to you is the benefit of seafood sustainability," he says. "We're able to provide shrimp year-round, not relying on harvesting them from the ocean, which can only meet a certain demand."

Long John Silver's, the national fast-food chain, was not so forthcoming about the source of its shrimp, but it did tell NEWSWEEK in a short e-mail that is "not affected" by the oil spill.

So breathe a sigh of relief, cheap-fish lovers! Just as there is no end in sight to the consequences for the gulf, your endless shrimp platters will indeed remain endless.

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