Mar 1, 2011 12:06 AM by Maddie Garrett
KATC continues its series on the state of gulf seafood by taking an in depth look into one of Louisiana's biggest seafood products, the oyster industry.
Workers for Motivatit Oysters endlessly dredge year round all along the coast of Louisiana. But during and after the BP oil spill, their livelihood was in danger.
"And some areas were oiled, some areas were sheen, a lot of the areas were precautionary closures," said Steve Voisin.
Steve, along with his brother Mike Voisin, are 7th generation oystermen. Mike now owns Motivatit Oysters in Houma, LA. After the spill they first worried about oil contamination because unlike shrimp and fish, oysters are stationary on the gulf floor.
"We were, of course, very concerned about when will this thing get capped," said Mike.
Motivatit processes 60,000 pounds of oysters per day, but after the spill that was cut in half, and it wasn't even directly because of crude oil.
Mike said fresh water -- poured into the estuaries to keep the oil off shore -- killed millions of oysters, not the oil. The fresh water diversions from the Mississippi did keep the oil out of the oyster beds, but at a price. The diversions changed the salinity of the water, destroying thousands of oyster beds.
"The amazing thing is the estuaries where a lot of the oysters were produced, oil never got into a lot, most of the estuaries never saw oil." explained Mike. "Most of them along Louisiana's, Mississippi's and Alabama's coast never saw oil. They might have saw some little tar balls coming in and some sheen but overall it never saw oil."
Mike remains confident that his oysters are safe to eat.
"Very few samples, some have had some PAH's in them but very few, and all of those have been a hundred to a thousand times below any level of concern," he said.
But he's less sure if people will still buy his product.
"We will feel the pain of this we will be scarred from it. We will stand up and run again. We were knocked down really hard last year," said Mike.
It will only take a few years for mother nature to replenish the oyster beds, but it could be much longer to rebuild a damaged industry.
If you look at the numbers before and after April 20, 2010, when the BP oil rig exploded, it's clear Louisiana's oyster industry was one of the hardest hit.
Prior to the oil spill:
-Louisiana produced about 250 million pounds of in-shell oysters a year.
-40% of the United States' domestic oyster supply
-In 2008, Louisiana oysters brought in almost $39 million in dockside revenue.
But after the spill, cut all of those numbers in half. Because about 50% of Louisiana's oyster beds were killed due to fresh water diversions.