Louisiana oyster beds that have yielded rich harvests for generations now produce little more than dozens of “empty, lifeless oyster shells,” the Associated Press reported, underscoring the death blow dealt by BP’s 2010 oil spill to local fisherman and businesses in some parts of the Gulf Coast.
Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion released millions of gallons of crude oil into some of the Gulf’s most ecologically sensitive regions. According to the AP, “thousands of acres of oyster beds where oil from the well washed ashore are producing less than a third of their pre-spill harvest.”
To the fishermen most familiar with these waters and the life they sustain, there are more signs spelling future trouble than there are harbingers of hope.
Fisherman Randy Slavich told the AP he is most troubled by the scarcity of oyster larvae that were once found in abundance east of the Mississippi. Extremely low numbers of young oysters mean future generations will be low as well, and nobody knows if or when the numbers will improve and the cycle will normalize, adding a vast dimension of uncertainty to the people and businesses that depend on the oyster harvests.
Half of the Gulf’s oyster harvest and one-third of the entire U.S. oyster harvest come from Louisiana, meaning that fewer oysters are being sold at higher prices. Once one of the cheapest forms of seafood available on the Gulf Coast, oysters could become a luxury in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.
Louisiana’s 1.6 million acres of public oyster beds normally produce anywhere from 3 million to 7 million pounds of oyster meat each year. Last year, total oyster production weighed in at just 954,950 pounds. Alabama and Mississippi have also experienced a decline in oyster harvests since the BP oil spill.