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Gulf oil spill may lead to shrimp shortage but California isn't worried

If you're planning to put some shrimp on the barbie on Memorial Day weekend, better stock up now.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday it's nearly tripling the amount of waters in the Gulf of Mexico that are closed to fishing because of a massive oil spill off the coast of Louisiana.

That'll mean a shortage of domestic shrimp over the next month, predict those in the seafood business. Already, prices have risen, and even bigger hikes are possible over the next few weeks.

Sacramento area restaurants and seafood counters don't feature much seafood from the gulf, but when they do, it's most likely to be shrimp.

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, sales of seafood from the gulf states totaled $659 million in 2008, with shrimping revenue from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida accounting for about $200 million in 2008.

The massive spill, which started April 20, coincided with the start of shrimping season in the Gulf of Mexico. Prices on the shellfish went up almost as soon as oil started spilling.

"Prices have gone up 10 percent from a month ago," said Alex Parnaste of Seafood Suppliers Inc., a San Francisco-based seafood wholesaler. "Inventories are also drained. People bought up because they knew what was coming."

Shrimp tends to freeze well, so local butchers and restaurants say they've still got surplus from the previous fishing season. Once that runs out, and depending on how well the spill is contained, gulf shrimp prices are expected to rise — that is, if there are any shrimp to be had.

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