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Gulf oil spill sends oyster prices higher

RALEIGH — A few weeks ago, Earp's Seafood Market in Raleigh sold oysters in the shell for 40 bucks a bushel. This week they're 50 bucks.

Blame the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

David Salmon, the manager of Earp's, said he's just passing on higher costs — his profit per bushel remains $12 — and that so far he hasn't met price resistance from oyster fans. At any rate, he's much more worried about availability.

"If this spill continues, you might not get any oysters from the Gulf," he said. "I can see me not getting any oysters in the shell."

The gusher spilling into the Gulf hasn't affected the price or availability of most seafood. But most oysters Americans eat are harvested along the U.S. coasts, and 67 percent come from the Gulf region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Economists and other experts have been warning that the cost of everything from coffee to tires could be collateral damage from the spill. The uptick in the price of oysters could be a leading indicator.

The Gulf's problems also are pushing shrimp prices higher, but to a lesser extent. Most shrimp we eat comes from overseas, but Gulf shrimp does account for nearly three-quarters of domestic production.

The unyielding law of supply and demand has sent frozen shrimp prices up 15 percent to 20 percent, said Brent Schilb, general manager of Inland Seafood's distribution center in Charlotte. Oyster prices are up about 40 percent so far, and the supply has been drastically curtailed.

"We're expecting another price increase," he said.

Washington Crab & Oyster Co. in Washington, N.C., a wholesaler and retailer, typically gets about 500 to 600 gallons of oysters each week at this time of year, said owner Tony Tripp. Last week he obtained only 200 gallons.

"We're going to be very lucky to have any product at all next week," he said.

A few Triangle restaurants have pulled oysters from the menu because of the spill.

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