After BP Oil Spill, Gulf Oyster Industry Continues to Struggle

The BP oil spill is still wreaking havoc in the Gulf Coast oyster industry. According to a report on NPR, some oystermen are worried they may never recover.

The BP oil spill began on April 20, 2010 with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men. Attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the undersea well on July 15. By that time, roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The BP oil spill, which now ranks as the largest offshore oil disaster in US history, paralyzed important segments of the Gulf Coast’s economy, including seafood and tourism.

For its report, NPR interviewed Louisiana oysterman Mitch Jurisich and Al Sunseri, the president of P&J Oyster Co. Jurisich supplies oysters to Sunseri to sell to restaurants and markets, and both of their families have been in the business for generations.

While things are looking up, and much of the oil has disappeared, Jurisich told NPR that about 20 percent of the oysters in his beds have been buried or smothered by drifting sediment. That’s because the state of Louisiana built berms to keep the oil from reaching fragile wetlands – berms that went right through Jurisich’s oyster beds.

“We fought the oil. We won the battle in a way,” Jurisich told NPR. “And now we’re fighting man’s decision to stop the oil. They have destroyed more oyster crops than I think the oil would have ever.”

Jurisich told NPR that he doesn’t expect to be reimbursed for those losses.

For his part, Sunseri says his company is working with a skeleton crew because he can’t get his hands on enough oysters to ramp up operations. P&J Oyster Co. was once the premier oyster company in New Orleans, but has now lost all of its retail customers and two-thirds of its wholesale customers because of its inability to procure oysters, NPR said.

“You know, people don’t just turn on a light switch and then it’s able to be like it was,” Sunseri told NPR. “That’s not the way it is.”

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