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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid