With great volumes of Midwest floodwater and silt flushing through the Mississippi Delta changing oyster habitat, the Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Patrick Banks claims conditions are similar to recent hurricanes and advocates for a federal fisheries disaster declaration.
Banks said, “Very similar to what happened after Katrina, after Gustav, we documented the impact to our resources and to our fishing communities. We provided economic data, along with the biological data. We put that together along with an application to the federal government and asked for a federal fisheries disaster declaration. And so, if they agree with us that it is a disaster—and I feel quite sure they will—then that will be transmitted to Congress with the hopes that Congress will appropriate some disaster funding that will help both our animals and our fishing communities.”
In spite of the fact that Dr. Michael Hopkins of the Coastal Sustainability Program, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation stated in 2017, “For the last 35 years, the industry has produced more Eastern oysters in Louisiana than any other state,” some local dredge operators like Robert Campo are coming up short this year.
Robert Campo, an oyster fisherman and marina owner based in Yscloskey, Louisiana, examined a dredge full of dead shells and rocks for signs of oyster life and said “We don’t have a live oyster in here. Not one. And this was a 100-sack-a-day spot. It’s no more good. This is what freshwater does us.”
Banks said that besides oysters, other seafood production is down significantly with Louisiana’s shrimp and crab landings in April both down about 60 percent from the five-year average. Meanwhile, according to Michael Wilberg in a 2013 study by University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Eastern oysters could rebound more quickly with limited fishing and improved habitat.
They found that oyster harvesting methods, such as dredging and tonging, chip away at the oyster reef and knock it down, spreading the shells over the bottom and making the remaining oysters prone to being covered by silt or moving them to a soft surface where oysters cannot grow. Since reefs are the place where oysters are born and reproduce, fishing not only removes adults from the population, but also removes habitat essential to their survival.
Includes reporting from the Associated Press