Area restaurant owners have not seen fish surcharge

Kevin Wilson

New Mexico may eventually feel various pains as part of the ripple effect of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

So far, a fish surcharge isn’t one eastern New Mexico is dealing with.

With fears of oil contamination, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has closed much of the Gulf of Mexico to fishing, shrimping and oystering.

That’s pushed prices up as much as 30 percent for Gulf shrimp and oysters, and at some restaurants across the country, it means either scaling back the menu or passing those costs on to diners.

Red Lobster will run out of oysters in mid-July, said Rich Jeffers, a spokesman for Darden restaurants, which owns Red Lobster.

Jeffers told USA Today that Red Lobster buys its oysters from a processor in Franklin, La., which shut down its oyster processing June 19 “due to lack of product,” Jeffers says. He said he expected the restaurant to take oysters off the menu later this month until supply stabilizes.

However, other fish can be more easily replaced through other sources. The Gulf produces less than 2 percent of fish and seafood eaten in the country, and about 84 percent is imported from across the globe, according to the NOAA.

When contacted later by the News Journal the possibility of a fish surcharge, Jeffers said he’d never heard of such a charge, and Red Lobster certainly wasn’t doing that.

Neither had Tim Dolan, the president of Cattle Baron Restaurants Inc.

“No fish surcharge,” Dolan said in a voicemail left to the News Journal. The company started more than 30 years ago in Portales and operates more than a dozen restaurants throughout New Mexico and Texas.

Neither John Pugh of Something Different or Juan Garza of Juanito’s Mexican restaurant said such a charge had happened. Both restaurants operate in Clovis and Portales, and each have a small number of items that use shrimp.

Chris Bryant, who owns the Foxy Drive-In, said he’d never heard of such a charge, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.