Nov 14, 2010 12:27 PM by Chris Welty
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Public oyster harvesting grounds open Monday
along Louisiana's coast, but on a smaller scale than usual, in part
because of complications from the BP oil spill.
Louisiana's Wildlife and Fisheries Commission recently voted to
indefinitely delay the opening for a broad area east of the
Mississippi River, which state wildlife officials estimate produces
about 28 percent of the oysters harvested in the state.
Many oyster harvesters and dealers supported closing that area
and a tiny area west of the river, even though the state has fewer
marketable oysters than usual because of natural and man-made
factors, including the spill. They said dredging for oysters now
might destroy the young seed oysters - called spat - that have been
found in the area.
"It's a good move because we're really low on the resource of
seed oysters that is the basis of the industry," longtime
oysterman Pete Vujnovich said last week. Spat oysters can be
transported to other oyster grounds to replenish them or they can
be harvested later when they reach market size, Vujnovich said.
Such closures are often controversial. But at last month's
meeting of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, comprising people in a
variety of oyster-related businesses, support for the continued
closure was nearly unanimous.
Still, Mike Voisin, a principal in the family owned Motivatit
Seafood of Terrebonne Parish, voted against it. Task force chairman
John Tesvich, who, like Voisin, is in the oyster processing
business, didn't vote, but later said he would like to see more
public areas open.
Voisin said failure to harvest marketable oysters means a
continued shortage that could lead to a long-term loss of market
share as businesses turn to other areas.
It's a legitimate concern, Vujnovich said: "You don't want to
lose the people you sell to." But he supports the closure as being
in the industry's best long-term interest.
The oil spill clobbered a business hit hard five years earlier
by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
After the spill, precautionary closures shut down production
from some of the state's richest areas, which include leases
harvested year round. That led to an oyster shortage.
Then there was the diversion of fresh water from inland
waterways into salty oyster growing areas - an attempt to keep the
oil out that also killed oysters.
Nature played a part as well, said Randy Pausina, an assistant
secretary in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
"It was going to be one of those summers where we had higher
than normal mortality," he said. An extremely hot summer and high
Mississippi River levels both were factors, he said.
Voisin and other processors currently are getting oysters from
other areas of the Gulf of Mexico.
"Texas is producing a lot of oysters right now," Voisin said.
But, he added, the availability is likely to be spotty at times
heading into the holiday season, meaning shorter supplies and