Theodore, Alabama — On March 5, six million pounds of oysters were loaded on barges by the sack-full in an effort to reestablish a depleted oyster reef located on Fowl River, a bayou in Mobile County. This 15-mile trek took the oysters from their original home in northern Mobile Bay southward to the Fowl River area. Funding for the move came from federal Katrina money in an effort to jumpstart the waning oyster industry.
“The big benefit of this is that is going to put oystermen back to work harvesting and get some oysters back on the market,” John Mareska, a biologist with the Division of Marine Resources, said.
That was before the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig located in the Gulf of Mexico. The oyster move has now positioned the Alabama oysters into a more vulnerable southern position.
So what is the projected impact on the new oyster beds? According to Larry Simpson, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Executive Director, the outlook is grim. When I spoke with him this morning, he said, “We know these recently transplanted beds will be affected; we’re just not sure how much.”
According to the Gulf States Marine Fisheries website: “It will take at least a couple of months to get this done, bringing all available technology to bear. It will be an ecological disaster if the well flows all of the while.”
Oystermen in Bayou La Batre and elsewhere have their eyes on the slick as it eases northward into their harvest territories. They are not taking a wait-and-see approach. The Deepwater Horizon Response Team, which consists of the Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Homeland and Security, the NOAA, and BP has actively involved the oystermen in protecting the beds with the use of protective boom technology. Over 200,000 feet of the inflatable barrier will deploy with the help of local anglers and oystermen.
Today, oystermen are continuing their efforts to salvage their waning industry. Deploying from four separate locations in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, oystermen continue to operate in their new role as protectors of the oyster. Boats have been loaded with the boom as oystermen fight today’s rough seas to set the booms in place.
The Deepwater Horizon Response Team says that more than 139,000 gallons of dispersant were deployed to help absorb the oil that continues to flow into the Gulf region. Today, updated reports show that more than 200,000 gallons of oil per day has spilled into the Gulf waters along Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website, commercial fishermen made $659 million in total landing revenues in 2008. Twenty-four million fishing trips were made into the Gulf in 2008.
Gulf States Marines Fisheries Commission, “Horizon Update”
BP, “Gulf Coast Update”
Deepwater Horizon Response Team, “Update 13 Deepwater Horizon”
Gulf States Marines Fisheries Commissions, “Gulf of Mexico Spill Information”