John Tesvich, president of the Louisiana Oyster Dealers and Growers Association, and Chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, opened the annual Louisiana Oyster Convention last weekend with a speech that offered an emotional overview of where his industry finds itself post-spill – and hinted that more cooperation and fact-finding will be needed to restore it.
Mr. Tesvich begins by noting that his speech last year, coming one month before the BP spill, hit on what has made the Gulf oyster industry a global institution over the years: “…enduring resilience has helped us to survive over the course of many generations.”
He added “…who could have imagined that, within a month [after last year’s optimistic speech], we’d be facing a threat of epic proportions; an assault on our natural resources, whose containment overwhelmed the ability of one of the most powerful corporate energy giants, and the most powerful government on Earth? No one was prepared for it.”
Mr. Tesvich says that questions, including whether the industry can survive, need answers that “…are scattered about in bits and pieces in the vast, deep Gulf waters, and in the deep recesses in the minds of people, all over. We now have to focus on collecting those bits and pieces.”
He’s right. We need to come together internationally to do the research and make the changes necessary to revive the oyster population (around the world) – and keep it healthy. Among other things, Mr. Tesvich says oyster harvesters get blamed for population declines when development policies can have much more of an impact.
His speech is required reading for anybody following the spill and its impact on our way of life. Oysters are the hardest-hit of the damaged line of Gulf seafood products, and oystermen no doubt will play a significant role in how the Gulf makes a comeback.
Here’s the full speech:
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the 2011 Louisiana Oyster Convention.
I am John Tesvich, President of the Louisiana Oyster Dealers and Growers Association, and Chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, and I’ll be your Moderator today. Today’s presentations will provide vital information for the oyster industry to deal with the effects of the BP Oil Spill. We all have a lot of questions – And the information presented today will help us make smarter decisions about our future.
In last year’s opening address I focused on the Louisiana Oyster Industry’s enduring resilience. Our industry’s enduring resilience has helped us to survive over the course of many generations. We made it through in the wake of significant changes and disasters, be they natural or man-made. My address was a positive uplifting tome meant to inspire confidence in the midst of the challenges we were facing last year – on March 20, 2010.
Only one month later, on April 20, 2010, everything changed for the oyster industry, as we have known it. Who could have imagined that, within a month, we’d be facing a threat of epic proportions; an assault on our natural resources, whose containment overwhelmed the ability of one of the most powerful corporate energy giants, and the most powerful government on Earth? No one was prepared for it.
Now, our quest is to know where, exactly, do we stand, and, what does our future have in store? Will we be able to overcome this one? Those are the questions that are on all of our minds. The answers to those questions are out there – but they are scattered about in bits and pieces in the vast, deep Gulf waters, and in the deep recesses in the minds of people, all over. We now have to focus on collecting those bits and pieces – like a puzzle – to put them together in order to get to the answers. Our goal today is to present a clearer picture of where we are, and what we face, so that we can plan what our next moves should be.
Although there is still a lot of uncertainty, there are several things that I feel certain about that I’d like to share with you.
Those points include:
- For anyone in the seafood business in the Gulf Coast, our livelihoods have changed forever. The BP well blowout and oil spill has already been established as a permanent marker in our time. Much like Katrina was for those of us that bore the brunt of it, everything in our historical recollections will be marked in time as either having been before or after the oil spill.
- The oil spill disaster could have been much worse. If it was closer in, or if there was a storm, and so on, we know it could have been much worse. During the spill, the lack of containment was scary and it was difficult to watch day after day. And it was sad to see that the defenders were not able prevent the oil from coming in to Barataria Bay. The area of Bay Jimmy, in particular was hard hit. But everyone knows it could have been a lot worse, and we are grateful that it didn’t inundate more of our interior wetlands.
- The oil spill disaster has raised the awareness of the importance of the Gulf Coast’s natural resources, which for too long were being taken for granted. For Example, the decision to open the fresh water diversions to push the oil out was not greeted well by most oystermen. Quite frankly many of us thought that it was an attempt by the radical pro-diversion forces to use this event to see what the fresh water can do for coastal restoration. And we did see – we saw a lot of dead oysters! And when those dead oysters hit the news it brought backlash, and helped to raise questions and awareness, in the general public, and in our government. Governor Bobby Jindal even established a special Oyster Advisory Committee in the wake of those events. I believe that there are positive effects that will survive this crisis.
Finally, I want to talk about a recent environmental report that stated 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have been destroyed and are currently unproductive. With only 15% of natural productive oyster reefs left worldwide, the remaining oyster reefs along the Gulf Coast should be even more treasured. The authors of that article, like many other environmentalists, are quick to blame it on over-harvesting, because the harvesters are the easiest scapegoats to attach blame to. The fact, however, is that the diminishment of oyster reefs is mostly being caused by the man-made development that is carried on all around them.
Consider the effects of coastal land development, flood protection, industrial discharges, dams in the rivers, navigational channels, subsidence, pipeline canals across the wetlands, dredging, and energy industry prop-washing.
In Louisiana, for example, one Coastal Use Permit to dredge or prop-wash a channel in an oyster-growing area can allow the more permanent damage to the growing area than the effects of all oyster dredgers combined. Likewise, one decision that allows a change in the natural hydrology (for example, adding levees or large–scale freshwater diversions) in the coastal area can create a greater impact on the ecosystem than all the oyster harvesters combined can have in a lifetime.
The Oyster Task Force introduced a bill in Louisiana State Legislature last year that would have protected certain pristine public oyster reef areas from direct channel dredging and prop-washing methods that are commonly used by the oil industry. It was immediately controversial. The oil companies were against it. DNR was against it. The administration was against it. And even some Oyster Task Force members were against it. The bill was dropped. But that was before the BP oil spill. I wonder if they would all still be against it now.
We, the members of the oyster industry, are not against the oil companies, nor are we against coastal restoration. Our country needs the oil, and we all need to restore the coast. But we also need to do it smartly, using the best technology, with plenty of safeguards to prevent avoidable damages. We need to make sure that our renewable natural resources are not being unnecessarily sacrificed or put at risk. I hope that there is enough public will to move our government that direction.
Thank You for joining us today. Please enjoy the program. We have a talented panel of presenters, so don’t be afraid to ask those tough questions. That way you can get the vital information to help make smarter decisions about your future.
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