08/26/2010 04:25 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Grocer Urges Gulf Coast Shrimp On Customers -- Buyer Beware?

Apparently, the Harris Teeter grocery store chain has something called the "Fresh Catch Club," and yesterday, its members received an email, flagged by Sarabeth Guthberg at, that read, in part:

This week's Fresh Catch feature item is fresh wild caught 13-17ct Head-On Gulf White Shrimp, harvested from the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf white shrimp are just starting their summer season. These shrimp are plump and juicy, waiting to be grilled on the Bar-B-Que. They also make an excellent shrimp cocktail or just about any Shrimp dish you can think of. Harris Teeter strives to deliver the highest quality and safest seafood available. The Gulf oil spill has severely affected the shrimp and the seafood industry in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Although Texas has not been impacted by the oil spill, the best way we can support this industry is by buying Gulf seafood. And you will only find it at Harris Teeter Fishermans (sic) Market. Satisfaction guaranteed or we'll double your money back with your VIC card.

Yes, these shrimp come from "crystal clear waters," yadda yadda blah, oh, by the way -- side note: remember that whole Deepwater Horizon thingy? As Guthberg points out, the text implies that the bounty comes from Texas, customers don't get any explicit direction, like, say: "Don't worry, this stuff all comes from Texas!"

Earlier this month, ABC News reported that while officials as high up as President Obama himself were insisting that seafood from the affected region was safe, many Gulf Coast shrimpers didn't "want to risk their reputations on possibly tainted catches." It sort of makes you wonder about the ones who did!

A week after that ABC news report, the Washington Post published a story along the same lines:

Federal officials said it was safe. They had allowed states to reopen harvest areas, they said, only after tests on fish and shrimp showed no signs of oil or dispersants. In fact, federal officials said, they did not turn up a single piece of seafood that was unsafe to eat -- even at the height of BP's oil spill.

But, like many things in the Gulf of Mexico, Monday's ritual only looked like a return to normal. In some places, the start of shrimping was greeted with suspicion instead of joy.

Some fishermen and their families worried that the government's testing was inadequate -- and that if any seafood diners wound up with a plate of oil-tainted scampi, it would be a knockout blow for their industry. In Venice, La., a shrimper was told he wouldn't be paid for his catch until the buyer ran it through tests.

"The fishermen don't want to make people sick. I wouldn't feed that to my children without it being tested -- properly tested, not these 'Everything's okay' tests," said Tracy Kuhns, a shrimp-boat owner from Barataria, La. She said that because she and her husband were not confident in the government's assurances they had not gone shrimping Monday.

Two days later, Vicki Seyfert-Margolis, Senior Adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, told Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that the Feds weren't even testing seafood from within the "oiled areas" of the Gulf of Mexico:

So, to all of my fellow Harris Teeter consumers, hear me: Maybe your fresh catch comes from Texas, but I am typing CAVEAT EMPTOR just as hard as I can.

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