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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy 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.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid