Gulf Coast Oysters in Peril

from Wildlife Promise

If you’ve ordered Gulf oysters at a restaurant this summer, then you’ve noticed their prices have gone up. Way up.

Gulf oysters served as an appetizer. Photo by Alpha on Flickr.

The decline of Gulf oysters has been a top headline in Gulf Coast papers recently. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the “Gulf Oyster Harvest has Nose-Dived Since BP Spill,” stating that in Louisiana alone:

“Public reefs typically would produce anywhere from 3 million to 7 million pounds of oyster meat a year. In 2010 and 2011, production dropped to barely 2 million pounds, then nosedived to just 563,100 pounds in 2012 before rising to 954,950 pounds last year.

The other Gulf States aren’t exempt from the oyster decline either. The cause of their decline is most likely due to a combination of factors cited in the media, such as hurricanes, drought, a booming coastal population, floods, and the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster of 2010.

Mississippi and Alabama have also reported on the decreased oyster population and the boom in their prices at restaurants. Chris Nelson is the vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries Inc. in Alabama, and he recently told the San Antonio Express News that:

“The impact of all these different problems, challenges along the Gulf Coast, have led to an historical low point in the production of oysters.”

The efforts to keep up with demand for oysters poses a potential threat to the resource as well because harvesters may be tempted to take juvenile oysters that still need time to grow and provide important functions in our bays and estuaries.

Regarding the concern over decreasing oyster populations in Texas, Bryan Legare of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department also reported to the San Antonio Express News:

“Drought plus a growing population equals no water entering the bays. The reservoirs aren’t releasing as much water as they need to for environmental concerns.”

Oysters_TPWD

A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Photo from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

While the exact cause or causes of the current oyster situation may vary from state to state, the need to restore and protect their presence across the Gulf of Mexico does not. That’s because oysters do essential jobs while calling the Gulf coast home – they filter a tremendous amount of water that flows through our bays and estuaries, and they protect people and infrastructure from storm events by making our shores stronger.

Right now, all five Gulf Coast States are planning how they will spend billions of dollars of Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery money. This is money allocated to Gulf States from the RESTORE Act, to be spent on restoration of the Gulf’s coastal region and marine environment.

Spending oil spill recovery money on projects and programs that will either restore or enhance Gulf oysters, like projects aimed at protecting our bays and estuaries, will not only benefit the health of the Gulf ecosystem, but will sustain our economy as well.

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