NEW ORLEANS – In the waters stretching from the MR-GO, down to the mouth of the Mississippi River, oysters are having a tough time, and a mystery is unfolding in one of the state’s most productive areas for oysters.
“It’s not a good sign,” said John Tesvich, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.
The sign is a lack of oyster spat, in what is known as coastal zone number two. Scientists are baffled, and they said so at a meeting on Tuesday of the Oyster Task Force.
“That’s really alarming, when we see large areas, some of the areas that are the heart of the predominant oyster seed ground, we’re not seeing the young spat this year,” Tesvich said.
The spat is the first critical step needed for oysters to rebound.
The past year has been tough for oyster fishermen and their crop, as they dealt with the BP oil spill and then fresh water diversions opened by the state, to try and keep the oil out. Byron Encalade, of the Louisiana Oystermen Association, said many of the oyster fishermen on the eastern bank of Plaquemines Parish are still facing hard times.
“I’m starting to worry about the mental stress building now,” Encalade said. “Every time we wait and miss a cycle, it adds another year onto our recovery.”
It takes three years for most oysters to mature. In coastal zone two, there is an additional issue.
“These areas are not only used for direct to market, but they’re used as seed areas, where oyster farmers take the seed and plant it on their own oyster farms, for further cultivation,” said Al Sunseri of P&J Oyster Company.
The lack of spat is now a real worry. At this point, it is not clear whether fresh water diversions – from Caernarvon and other areas – have anything to do with it. That’s because areas that are even further away from the coast are also seeing the same spat problem.
“The outer reefs, further out, where the salinity would be considerably higher, should have had some spat signals. But we don’t see it anywhere, and that’s really tough,” Tesvich said. “Normally after a fresh water event, the crop rebounds. We may even have bumper crops. That’s traditionally been the general sequence of events, but we haven’t seen that and nobody really knows why.”
Oysters in other areas around the state appear to be better off, including the northern coastal areas of St. Bernard. The oyster task force is hoping biologists with Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will be able to figure out what’s going on with the spat in coastal zone two and fix the problem.