Program aims to restore Gulf oyster beds to ‘former glory’
More than four years after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, oyster production has not rebounded, industry sources tell SeafoodSource, but mega-hatcheries in the works are giving longtime suppliers hope.
“The oyster grounds have not produced anywhere near what they used to produce. There are no seed oysters, and not even a fraction of the market oysters,” Al Sunseri, owner of P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans, La., and a board member of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council, told SeafoodSource.
In fact, P&J Oyster Co., a Gulf institution, has realized a signficiant drop in its oyster processing business. “We now handle in one year what we would have been doing a month and we have half the customers we had,” Sunseri said.
As a result, several groups are proposing a mega-hatchery program called the Gulf Oyster Hatchery Initiative, which would use oyster seed to restore Gulf of Mexico oyster reefs and create new habitats.
“Mega-hatchery technology is used all over the world, including in Asia and Australia. We never had to use it before in the Gulf,” Sunseri said.
The Council and other groups — including the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, with support from the Gulf Seafood Institute — believe a hatchery program is necessary for the Gulf oyster industry to survive and flourish in the future.
“By constructing and operating two new large-scale oyster mega-hatcheries located along the Gulf Coast, needed larvae and seed will be provided to each Gulf state to enhance existing oyster reefs, and create new oyster reefs to protect shorelines and establish new oyster sanctuaries,” said LaDon Swann, director of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.
The Gulf Oyster Hatchery Initiative would add 83 billion juvenile oysters to around 166,000 acres of public oyster beds and reefs in the Gulf. The groups estimate the budget for the 10-year project would be USD 132 million (EUR 107.5 million), including USD 52 million (EUR 42 million) for hatchery construction and operation.
Existing oyster hatchery capacity will be used while a rigorous six-month assessment for a mega-hatchery is conducted.
“Beginning in year five, the project’s single year’s harvest could be worth up to USD 6.8 million (EUR 5.5 million) to harvesters, which is comparable to the value of the ecosystem services provided by the restoration and stock enhancement,” Sunseri said. “We should be doing whatever we can to bring this species back to its formal glory.”