Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam held this morning at The Atlas Oyster Bar a roundtable discussion with community leaders. Putnam had just finished an appearance with Mayor Ashton Hayward on Morning Joe in which they touted the safety of Gulf seafood.
The Department of Agriculture has successfully negotiated $20 million settlement from BP—$10 million of testing and $10 million for advertising and marketing our seafood. The funds will be distributed over three years.
“There are lots of pieces to 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 any traces of oil and that was one on-thousandth below the level at which FDA has concerns. 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 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 day and had BP’s checkbook, I would establish a system of hatcheries for stock enhancement and renourishment,” said Putnam.