News / USA

Diminishing Gulf Oyster Industry Struggles On

Commercial fishing ban doesn't stop New Orleans from throwing oyster festival

Oyster fisherman Tracy Collins shucks an oyster on Caminada Bay in Louisiana.
Oyster fisherman Tracy Collins shucks an oyster on Caminada Bay in Louisiana.

Multimedia

Audio
David Weinberg

It is a nearly cloudless early June morning on Caminada Bay, Louisiana, aboard a boat surrounded by marshlands and pelicans.

Dolphins appear alongside the boat as 72-year-old Wilbert Collins guides the way through the reefs.

Scanning the horizon, there is no apparent oil sheen. All the eye can see is what appears to be clean water and a string of orange booms surrounding the bay that people here hope will keep the oil out.

Collins is a third generation oyster fisherman from Lafourche parish. When he started his business over 50 years ago, there were 16 other oyster companies working on this bayou. Today, he is the only one left.

Wilbert Collins, 72, is a third generation oyster fisherman.
Wilbert Collins, 72, is a third generation oyster fisherman.

"Bayou Lafourche was big for oyster boats," he recalls. "When the steam seasons started after Christmas we had four, five, six boats passing this bayou every day loaded down with oysters to go to the steam factory. Today not one. Not one of them."

Edged out

There are a number of reasons why the state's oyster industry was declining long before the Deep Horizon well exploded in April.

Supply canals dug by the oil companies carved away land that was home to many oyster beds.

Some areas were over fished and in other places, years of river management diverted large amounts of fresh water into the Gulf, altering the salinity of the water oysters need to survive.

The boat putters towards a group of empty laundry detergent containers bobbing in the distance. These homemade buoys mark the location where Collins and his sons lease their oyster beds. It's one of 70 leases they have throughout this region.

"We travel far and these boats don't go more than seven-eight miles an hour, so it takes us a long time to get where we're going," says Collins.

These oysters can't be sold to restaurants or the public due to oil spill safety concerns.
These oysters can't be sold to restaurants or the public due to oil spill safety concerns.

When the boat reaches the buoys, Collin's son, Nick, lowers a huge metal claw with a net attached into the water and dredges up a load of oysters.

His brother, Tracy shucks one, pointing out the still beating heart. The oyster tastes delicious, plump and salty. No crude has drifted onto this reef yet, so it's safe to eat.

But these oysters can't be sold to restaurants or the public. Louisiana officials have closed this area to commercial fishing until the full extent of the damage is known. More than half of the oyster beds along the Louisiana coast have been closed.

Declining conditions

At the moment, though, Nick Collins is more concerned about the fresh water that's already here than with the threat of oil getting into the oyster beds.

"There's just too much fresh water. You know like that that river water. It's chocolatey like chocolate milk. It just smothers them."

In order for an oyster to survive, it has to live in just the right mix of fresh and salt water. After the oil started leaking into the Gulf, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal increased the flow of fresh water into the Gulf, despite evidence showing the outflow would not keep the oil from washing ashore. Nick Collins worries this could kill all the oysters in a matter of weeks.

"You know, it's just hard to fathom what's really happening," he says. "All I know for real is that there's a lot of oil leaking in the gulf and today started hurricane season so I don't know. I don't know."

Oyster festival

Despite the uncertainty facing Louisiana's oyster fishermen, the New Orleans Oyster Festival kicked off this month in the French Quarter.  

A stage was erected in a parking lot beside the Mississippi River. Dozens of local restaurants set up booths showcasing their signature oyster dishes.

Charlie De Roca of Antoine's restaurant attended for another reason as well.

"Really started just as an oyster festival but, now with the oil spill, it's kind of had a whole new meaning for us. So were all out here to support the oyster fisherman and the industry."

The Oyster fest is a labor of love for Sal Cinseri, owner of P and J Oyster Company. He originally scheduled the fest for 2005 but had to cancel because of Hurricane Katrina. Even with all the setbacks this year, Cinseri remains upbeat.

"We just want people to realize that we're alive and kicking," says Cinseri. "We're having a great time and we want people to support our city and our state and, most importantly, is to get our coastline replenished so this kind of stuff doesn't even happen."

Caminada Bay, Louisiana
Caminada Bay, Louisiana

A few days after Oysterfest ends, the first signs of oil start appearing in Caminada Bay.

No one knows for sure how much damage the oil and dispersants will do to the bay, and the Collins family's oyster beds.

It could be years, though, before anyone eats another Caminada Bay oyster.


You May Like

Jihadist Assassin says Goal of Tunisia Murders Was Chaos

Abu Muqatil at-Tunusi’s remarks in a propaganda interview also cast light on attack on Bardo Museum More

Russia Denies License to Tatar-Language TV Station in Crimea

OSCE official says denial shows 'politically selective censorship of free and independent voices in Crimea is continuing' More

Kenyan Startups Tackle Expensive Remittances Through Bitcoin

Some think services could give Western Union a run for its money, though others say it’s still got a long way to go More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leadersi
X
Aru Pande
April 01, 2015 9:09 PM
The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video For Obama, It's More Business Than Friendships With World Leaders

The rift between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put a spotlight on the importance of the American leader’s personal relationships with other world leaders and what role such friendships play in foreign policy. VOA's Aru Pande reports.
Video

Video Buhari: Nigeria Has ‘Embraced Democracy’

Nigeria woke up to a new president-elect Wednesday, Muhammadu Buhari. But people say democracy is the real winner as the country embarks on its first peaceful handover of power since the end of military rule in 1999. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Abuja.
Video

Video Tiny Camera Sees Inside Blood Vessels

Ahead of any surgical procedure, doctors try to learn as much as possible about the state of the organs they plan to operate on. A new camera developed in the Netherlands can now make that easier - giving surgeons an incredibly detailed look inside blood vessels, all the way to the patient’s heart. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Latin American Groups Seek Fans at Texas Music Festival

Latin American music groups played all over Austin, Texas, during the recent South by Southwest festival, and some made fans out of locals as well as people from around the world who had come to hear music. Such exposure can boost such groups' image back home. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Stockton Community, Police, Work to Improve Relations

Relations are tense between minority communities and police departments around the United States following police shootings that have generated widely-publicized protests. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Stockton, California, where police and community groups are working toward solutions, with backing from Washington.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More