Approxitmally two weeks ago, P&J Oysters, one of the oldest and largest oyster processors and distributors in Louisiana downsized, streamlining its operation In business since 1876, this five generation company was forced to lay off employees, some with the company for fifty years. It boils down to a crisis of supply. The company whose main focus was their oyster shucking operation, has for now closed that part of its business; and, is doing its best to supply its loyal customers with as much product as possible.
Rodney Fox, a Louisiana native and the owner of R&A Oysters, located in Bayou le Batre, Alabama, is currently P&J’s major supplier. He is one of a handful of growers and harvesters who are still in business on the Gulf Coast. He stated that many small fishermen have either gone to work cleaning up the oil spill or have just given up or quit. Mr. Fox says that at this point all seafood coming out of the region is safe to eat; however its scarcity is due to many threats facing the fisherman. Oysters are big business in the Gulf area. About 67% of the nation’s total production of oysters comes from the region, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2008, Louisiana alone landed nearly 13 million pounds of oysters worth almost $40 million in sales at the dock.
The Environmental Protection Agency has imposed new and stringent rules on fisherman and their industry. The closure of a third of federal waters in the Gulf includes areas known to be affected by oil, either on the surface or below the surface, as well as areas projected to be affected by oil. This includes a five-nautical mile buffer as a precaution around the known location of oil. .
Besides the possibility of the oil spill contaminating the oyster beds and killing the oysters or rendering them unsafe to eat, a method used to push back the oil uses inland water diversion. The fresh inland water dilutes saltier waters that oysters need, to thrive. The salinity levels in the estuaries are too low.
And still a further complication is that the spawning season for young oysters usually takes 18 to 24 months for oysters to grow to market size. The problems don’t stop there. The oyster company owner cannot find enough workers to harvest the oysters because they have gone to work for BP cleaning up the spill.
Many oyster farmers believe it could take more than three years to re-establish the industry.
As far as the price of oysters goes, Blaiss Nowak, owner of Southern Pier Seafood in Atlanta, says they are already up in price by twenty percent. He expects them to go up even further as the crisis of scarcity increases.