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Oil clean-up in progress. Below, oil debris attached to an oyster shell. (Photo: USCG, Ens. M.P.McGrew/ J.E. Davis)

Oil spill puts oyster industry in jeopardy

Click on the flag for more information about United States UNITED STATES
Friday, June 11, 2010, 15:20 (GMT + 9)

Some experts now expect BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to cause more long-term harm to New Orleans's economy than 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as the oyster industry faces daunting economic possibilities.

The 134-year-old, family-owned P&J Oyster Co is shucking oysters for the last day on Thursday as the massive oil spill in the Gulf ravages the oyster industry.

"I'm going to try and buy a few shucked oysters from some people in Alabama that are still processing oysters and once they stop, I'm done," said Al Sunseri, president and general manager of P&J Oysters.

He does not know what will happen to his business and employees in the long term, AP reports.

Louisiana is the largest oyster producer in the country, with as much as 40 per cent of the domestic crop and a yearly impact of some USD 318 million, informed the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF).

What is happening to the bivalves and their harvesters, Sunseri said, demonstrates the future of the rest of the coastal environment and economy, reports Bloomberg.

“Oysters are like the canary in the coal mine,” he pointed out. “As the oysters go, so go the other fisheries.”

Other oyster companies in Louisiana say their oyster supplies are also diminishing. Meanwhile, prices are mounting, and the future of these businesses looks dismal.

"The same thing happening over at P&J is happening over here also," said John Tesvich, owner of Ameripure Oyster Co in Franklin, Louisiana, which sells pasteurized oysters to restaurants across the US.

He said his firm may be able to cling a little longer than others because it cultivates and harvests its own oysters, which they acquire from suppliers.

"But they're on the point of depletion now," said Tesvich.

He is hoping for "a few more good weeks."

Oyster farmers and harvesters are facing a two-pronged menace.

First, the blown-out well spewing oil off Louisiana could contaminate the oyster beds, killing the shellfish or making them toxic. Last, fighting the invading oil by opening inland water diversion gates in an effort to push the oil back could also kill oysters, as fresh inland water dilutes the saltier waters oysters rely on to survive.

Further, this is spawning season for young oysters that often take 18-24 months to mature to market size.

John Rotonti, owner of Felix's Oyster Bar and Restaurant, expects he will eventually have to close the raw bar that is characteristic of his business and lay off a half-dozen shuckers.

Tesvich, Sunseri and Kevin Voisin — an executive with Motivatit Seafood, a family owned Houma oyster processor — all said workers could lose their jobs regardless of how many years they have spent at a company.

"There's 200 families that eat because Motovatit Seafood exists," Voisin said.

The owners of the companies said they are at varying stages of filing claims for aid from oil giant and culprit of the oil spill BP.

Related articles:

- Boost in fish, shellfish exports to US expected
-
Seafood businesses may suffer from Gulf oil catastrophe
-
Seafood prices may rocket due to oil slick

By Natalia Real
[email protected]
www.fis.com


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