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Jun 10, 2010 9:28 AM by Sharlee Barriere

Oil Spill: Oyster Shuckers Fear for Livelihood

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The pre-dawn shucking of small mountains of
oysters that is an age-old workaday ritual in New Orleans is coming
to an end at the 134-year-old P&J Oyster Co., because of the oil
spilling ominously offshore.
Barring an unforeseen reopening of the oyster beds that supply
P&J, Thursday was to be the final day of shucking at the family
owned business in the city's French Quarter.
"I'm going to try and buy a few shucked oysters from some
people in Alabama that are still processing oysters and once they
stop, I'm done," said Al Sunseri, who along with his brother Sal
has run the business that opened in 1876.
Sunseri isn't sure what will happen to P&J and its employees in
the long haul. Other Louisiana oyster companies say their oyster
supplies are also dwindling, prices are rising and the future of
their business remains stark and uncertain.
"The same thing happening over at P&J is happening over here
also," said John Tesvich, owner of Ameripure Oyster Co. in
Franklin, La. His company sells pasteurized oysters to restaurants
around the country.
Tesvich said Ameripure may be able to hold on a little longer
because it cultivates and harvests its own oysters, supplemented by
suppliers. "But they're on the point of depletion now," said
Tesvich, adding he's hoping for "a few more good weeks."
Oyster growers and harvesters are facing a double threat.
On the one hand, oil gushing from the blown-out well off
Louisiana could contaminate the beds, killing the oysters or
rendering them unsafe to eat. On the other hand, a method of
fighting the encroaching oil by opening inland water diversion
gates in hopes of pushing the oil back also could kill oysters. The
fresh inland water dilutes saltier waters oysters need to thrive.
Complicating the problem is the fact that it's spawning season
for young oysters that usually take 18 to 24 months to grow to
market size.
Third-generation oyster farmer Wilbert Collins, 73, said it
could take three years to replenish the stock on some of his leases
where fresh water is encroaching.
Collins said he owns three boats. Two are idle, one is doing oil
cleanup work. He's not sure what the future holds for his business
- or for his sons and grandson who work with him.
John Rotonti, owner of Felix's Oyster Bar and Restaurant, said
recently he has yet to run out of oysters for the raw bar at his
eatery just off Bourbon Street in the French Quarter tourist
district. Still, he's having to absorb price hikes and uncertain
supplies.
At some point, he said, he'll have to close the raw bar that is
the trademark of his business and probably lay off a half-dozen
shuckers.
Tesvich, Sunseri and Kevin Voisin - an executive with family
owned Houma oyster processor Motivatit Seafood - all say they worry
not just for themselves but for their workers. Some of their
employees have been with the companies for years.
"There's 200 families that eat because Motovatit Seafood
exists," Voisin said.
Nowadays, the owners of the companies said, they are at varying
stages of filing claims for aid from the oil giant BP that has
spent weeks trying to stop the oil spewing into the Gulf.

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