This article from the Walll Street Journal
discusses rough times for oyster farmers in the Gulf. It will be interesting to see if a Southern shortfall leads to higher revenues for North East oyster farmers.
It's a tough time for fans of Gulf Coast oysters, as a prolonged
swath of toxic algae in the Gulf of Mexico has delayed the start of the
Texas oyster-harvesting season. The algae outbreak, known as a Red Tide
because it can turn waters red or brown, is the most widespread on the
Texas coast in more than a decade, and threatens to render many millions
of oysters toxic. State officials will not say when or if they will
allow the harvest—scheduled to start this past week—which last year
yielded 5.2 million pounds of the bivalves.
The Red Tide is just the latest
problem for the Gulf oyster industry, which supplies the key ingredient
for many of the region's specialties, from the po' boy—a submarine-style
sandwich often filled with fried shrimp and oysters—to seafood gumbo.
In Texas alone, oyster sales between 2006 and 2010 were worth anywhere
from $8.8 million annually to $19.2 million to fishermen, while state
economists say the industry's overall impact on the Texas economy is
typically at least $25 million a year, according to an official at the
Texas Parks & Wildlife.
alone, oyster sales between 2006 and 2010 were worth anywhere from $8.8
million annually to $19.2 million to fishermen, while state economists
say the industry's overall impact on the Texas economy is typically at
least $25 million a year, according to an official at the Texas Parks
& Wildlife Department.Elsewhere in the Gulf, Mississippi
last month closed its oyster season, which runs from October to April,
after determining that recent flooding upset the salinity level that
oysters need to thrive.
"The season could be reopened but it's
not likely," said Joe Jewell, a staff officer at the Mississippi
Department of Marine Resources. About 1.5 million pounds of oysters came
from the state last year, according to federal data.
Louisiana is allowing oystermen to ply
their trade this year, but experts there are not expecting a big
harvest, in part because of the aftereffects of the Deepwater Horizon
oil spill and cleanup. Last year's 6.7-million-pound harvest was among
the lowest in 60 years. "We expect a below-average season on
the traditional public oyster seed grounds due to reduced oyster stock
size," said Patrick Banks, a marine biologist with the Louisiana
Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Scientists don't know what causes the
Red Tide, which crops up every few years but is usually limited to the
southernmost parts of Texas and dissipates after a few weeks. The
current outbreak is now in its second month and covers a vast swath of
the Texas coast, from South Padre Island to Galveston Bay. Marine
biologists say this summer's drought in Texas has helped prolong the Red
Tide by increasing salinity levels in the Gulf—conditions in which the
The shrimp, crab and fish industries
should be largely unaffected, scientists said, as Red Tides typically
don't kill enough fish to pose a serious threat to the Gulf's fish
population, while the toxin produced by Red Tides doesn't accumulate in
the edible portions of shrimp, fish and crabs. But, the oyster industry will bear the
brunt of the outbreak, as oysters that ingest the algae can be toxic to
humans, causing nausea and other stomach distress.
It can take months before Gulf oysters
detoxify to safe levels, Texas officials said. "We need cold weather
and rain and we're not getting that," said Meridith Byrd, a marine
biologist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
In the meantime, oystermen in Texas
are anxiously biding their time, as they catch up on dock work and other
tasks that often take a back seat when the harvesting season begins. "Oysters are 100% of what I sell,"
said Tony Jurisich, with U.S. Sea Products Inc. in Texas City, Texas.
"If the bays are closed, I don't have any income."
Seafood restaurant owners say they are
scrambling to find oysters as supply shortages have caused prices to go
up by 10% to 30%—increases the owners say they so far are not passing
on to customers.
"It's a mess," said Herb Story, the
owner of S.& D. Oyster Company, a Dallas restaurant that dishes up
as many 20,000 oysters weekly. So far, he said, he has been able to keep
customers happy by casting a wide net for oysters in Florida, Alabama
and other Gulf Coast states. But for those who want Lone Star
oysters, he said, "You just have to throw up your hands and say we are
subject to the effects of Mother Nature."