Offshore skimming vessels were able to operate in Louisiana waters, but not off the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, officials said. BON SECOUR — Aching from an oil spill hangover and a decade of problems, Alabama’s commercial seafood industry is fighting for survival. Sales are down about 10 percent to $146 million in the two years since the BP gusher, according to an Auburn University study obtained by The Associated Press. Now, boat captains, processing companies and retailers are pinning their hopes for a turnaround on a five-year, $5 million marketing blitz that began this month.
At Bon Secour Fisheries Inc., docks that once unloaded 85 boats a season, now process seafood from just three. The Auburn study looked at lasting impacts from the BP oil spill along the Alabama coast and determined that tourism has recovered completely while commercial seafood struggles because of sagging demand. While the spill shut down Gulf waters for much of 2010, statistics show the state’s seafood catch rebounded beyond pre-spill levels during the first three months of 2011, the most recent numbers available. But last fall was the worst shrimping season ever, Mike Skinner said as he piloted his trawler across lower Mobile Bay.

Skinner, a third-generation shrimper whose entire family works in the business, is apprehensive about the future after last year.
The new campaign is being coordinated by the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, created last year by Gov. Through advertising and a website that includes seafood recipes, Blankenship said they are trying to make people comfortable with cooking Alabama-produced seafood at home and ordering it in restaurants, even if the price is $1 or $2 higher than for a meal prepared with seafood from outside the United States.
Longtime boat operator Peter Nelson said any increase in demand will likely help Asian producers as much as anyone at his company, Aquila Seafood in Bon Secour, since few people know the source of their food. The downturn represents nearly $16 million in lost sales and was made all the worse because it followed years of hurricanes, spiking fuel prices and foreign competition that left few fishing boats around industry hubs like the Bon Secour River off Mobile Bay. It is funded by a grant from BP — the oil giant many blame for the region’s latest woes. Vice president Chris Nelson sees the marketing push as a way to make up for years of missed chances and bad luck.
The 36-year-old has been catching crabs since he was a boy and fears a way of life could come to an end if the industry doesn’t come back to life.

Compared to beach tourism, it’s not that large, and few stores identify their seafood sources. Seafood processors have cut 10 percent of their workforce since 2009, or 126 positions, and worker earnings were down another 10 percent, to $32.6 million last year.
Shrimp and other seafood along the northern Gulf coast seem perfectly healthy, he said, but shrimp seem scarce at times. Robert Bentley and chaired by Chris Blankenship, director of the Alabama Marine Resource Division, an arm of the state conservation agency. Also, he said, some people still have lingering doubts about seafood safety because of the 2010 spill.

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