Oyster Population Plummets in Louisiana After BP Spill, Floods

On the sixth anniversary of Katrina, more trouble for oyster farmers.

ByABC News
August 29, 2011, 9:50 AM

Aug. 29, 2011— -- Today, on the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana and Mississippi are battling a sharp decline in the oyster population, which may not recover until 2013 now that a two-year influx of fresh water has killed off millions of the mollusks.

After the BP oil spill in 2010, water was diverted out of the Mississippi River to keep the oil away from coastal wetlands. In the process, freshwater flooded into oyster hatcheries, disrupting the delicate saline balance required for oysters to survive. When saline levels get too low, algae die, eliminating the oyster's food supply.

And if it weren't already enough that the Gulf Coast had been hammered by the largest oil spill in U.S. history as well as record drought, oyster farmers got hit again in May after rain and snowmelt had caused the Mississippi River to rise higher than it had in 70 years.

The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway, located west of New Orleans, to divert rising Mississippi River floodwaters from the city. Soon after, they also opened the Morganza spillway, diverting water away from both Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and adding even more fresh water to oyster grounds.

"This year we'll produce about 50 percent of our traditional in-shell oysters," said Mike Voisin, CEO of Motivatit Seafoods, which typically produces about 20 million pounds of in-shell oysters.

During a typical oyster season, which starts in September in Louisiana, Voisin said the state produces a third of the nation's oysters. But this year, he estimates the number will decline from an average of 250 million pounds to about 125 million pounds.

Next year, he expects the number of oysters produced to decline even further, to 87.5 million pounds, and the price of oysters to rise.