Gulf oyster industry on road to recovery
The Gulf oil spill had a devastating effect on the region’s oyster crop, destroying between 10 and 20 percent of the 250 million pounds of the bivalve traditionally produced by the state of Louisiana, according to John Tesvich, managing partner at Ameripure in Franklin, La., and chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.
But for oyster processors, oil contamination was never a problem. The problem, says Pat Fahey, Tesvich’s partner, was the freshwater diversions initiated by the state to keep oil out of the estuaries, coupled with the closures of areas containing oyster beds and the public perception of oil-tainted seafood. The impact of those effects will ricochet within the industry for the next two to four years, ?Fahey predicts.
“We’re dealing with a very emaciated supply of oysters right now,” says Fahey, whose company halted operations from June through November due to inconsistent supply. “Throughout the period of the oil spill, certain areas were opened and closed depending on prevailing observations on where the oil might be. BP hired most of the available vessels that would otherwise have been harvesting oysters from areas that were still viable. And as the freshwater diversion projects pumped millions?of gallons of water from the Mississippi into the Gulf, the salinity levels of our water changed, resulting in massive oyster mortality.”
Louisiana lost 80 percent of the oysters that would have otherwise been harvested between May and October, says Mike Voisin, CEO of Motivatit Seafoods, an oyster processor in Houma, La. The company markets the Gold Band brand of high-pressure processed oysters.
“But pricing went up, which meant our sales were only down by about 25 percent,” says Voisin. Oyster prices in the Gulf, because of Texas production, have gone down about 15 to 25 percent to $30 for bushel-and-a-half sacks, he says. Louisiana will produce only half of its traditional annual production over the next couple of years as a result of the oil spill, with the real shortages occurring during summer 2011 and 2012, Voisin predicts.
Click here to view the rest of the feature on Gulf oysters. Written by SeaFood Business Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer, the story appeared in the January issue of SeaFood Business.