Mike Voisin: State of Louisiana Oyster Industry


Louisiana is the leading producer of fresh oysters in the United States yet was the hit hardest by this year’s massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Best estimates are that the state’s production of oysters will be about one-half normal this year, as a result.

Workers processing oysters at Motivatit Seafood in Houma, La.

Mike Voisin – CEO of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana, one of America’s largest oyster processors – says the brand of oysters from the Gulf was most severely damaged by 2010’s unfortunate events in the Gulf. The high pitch of media coverage of the oil spill left an unfortunate impression among many people, equating oil with Gulf seafood, which is not accurate, he says.

Growing oysters in the nutrient-rich estuaries of southern Louisiana is a delicate balance. In efforts to push encroaching oil away from Louisiana’s fertile yet fragile Mississippi Delta fishing grounds, a collective decision was made between Governor Bobby Jindal and the fishing industry to divert fresh water flow from the Mississippi.

Mike Voisin, CEO of Motivatit Seafoods.

Louisiana has 1.6 million acres of public and 400,000 acres of private oyster fishing grounds along the state’s coast, and most areas escaped oil contamination because of speedy action taken by the state and seafood industry, Voisin points out.

But there was a price to be paid … while the freshwater diversions were largely successful, it changed the salinity of water in the areas around the mouth of the river where oysters grow, killing many oysters that would have been harvested this year.

Louisiana normally produces 250-million in-shell pounds of oysters a year. Yet, Voisin estimates it will be at least two years before the harvest will return to that level.

Voisin views the BP event as a “speed bump in the road,” as he calls it. “We will work our way though it.”

Motivatit’s Gold Band Oysters ready for shipping.

A lot is at stake, and Voisin knows it better than most. An 8th-generation Louisiana oysterman, his company’s “Gold Band” oysters are processed in Houma and shipped worldwide.

A respected leader and highly visible voice for Louisiana’s seafood industry, Voisin readily acknowledges that the biggest challenge is not about getting production of oysters back to normal because that will happen. The hurtle is regaining the reputation and trust in the overall brand of seafood from the Gulf among consumers.

“We are making sure it’s a high quality and a fine product for the American people,” he says. And, Voisin, like others in Louisiana’s large seafood industry, is doing everything possible in order to make that happen.

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