Unexplained die-off latest blow to Louisiana oyster fishers
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Oyster harvesters and a state agency are trying to find the reason for the death of millions of pounds of oysters in some Louisiana harvesting areas in January.
The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that harvesters believe that the worst of the unexplained die-off is over, although small areas of dead oysters continue to appear. The affected waters were in the Plaquemines Parish area, and one of the mysteries is why some oyster reefs located between the affected areas remained healthy and thriving.
Carolina Bourque, the oyster program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said her agency and the state Department of Health have collected water samples to look for disease or chemicals.
“We definitely want to understand what’s happening so we can be aware and know if there was a reason this was caused or if this is another natural event that we should be watching for,” said Bourque.
Oyster harvester Mitch Jurisich also has hired biologists in different labs to run tests on samples he’s collected.
Water gauges haven’t shown clear signs of changes in salinity or oxygen levels that might have killed the oysters. Meanwhile, state health official Justin Gremillion said oysters successfully harvested in the affected areas are “absolutely safe” for the public consumption.
Matt Van Meter, a first-generation harvester, lost about 70% of his crop. He told the newspaper that he did have some oysters that survived outside the affected areas, but they likely won’t reach market size this year.
“Oysters don’t die this time of year,” said Van Meter of winter, when oysters are usually healthy and fat, making them more resilient. “I look at myself as the next generation of fisherman, and it’s very troubling.”
The die-off is just the latest blow to oyster fishers. Freshwater from the Mississippi River flood in 2019 devastated production, and the pandemic sent last year’s sales into a free-fall because so many restaurants closed.