Death of the Oyster


Many experts here in Louisiana have completely written off oyster production for this year…and coming years don’t look good either. Cain Burdeau of the Associated Press reports that: “Surveys of coastal oyster grounds have discovered extensive deaths of the shellfish, further threatening an industry already in free-fall because of BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” This comes as yet another piece of terrible news for an industry that was just starting to limp back to health after an extended downturn in production caused by over-harvesting, torrential rains, and of course, hurricanes.

As we begin to turn our attention away from stopping the spill and more toward cleaning it up, we should take heed of what has happened to the oysters in the Gulf. According to the AP: “The deaths are blamed on the opening of release valves on the Mississippi River in an attempt to use fresh water to flush oil out to sea.” Unintended consequences are sure to play a role in the massive cleanup effort that is underway and will likely continue for months if not years.

We need to be vigilant and smart about the cleanup. We need to make sure we don’t make matters worse by implementing half-baked, knee-jerk cleanup measures. From the AP: “For the past 82 days, about 30,000 cubic feet of water per second has flowed into coastal Louisiana, enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome, home to the New Orleans Saints football team, nearly once an hour.” The freshwater flush seems to have pushed some oil farther out to sea, but apparently it was too much freshwater for the oysters. They thrive in saltwater, and the absorption of relatively small amounts of freshwater can kill them. And it has…in widespread fashion.

Again, let’s be smart and measured about the cleanup. Let’s do our homework…BEFORE we execute. As with the use of toxic dispersant in an unauthorized way – injected deep underwater directly at the well site – the consequences of our actions may make the initial damage even worse.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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