- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Most of the Louisiana and Mississippi oyster industry was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, with the shellfish’s mortality in Louisiana along the impact area estimated at 99 percent, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

“Because of extensive hurricane-related pollution and related contamination concerns, any remaining oysters in areas affected by Katrina will not be harvestable for an undetermined period,” the CRS report said.

Louisiana accounts for 35 percent of total domestic oyster production, according to the Office of Fisheries for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

“Typically, based on our experience in previous hurricanes, it takes a minimum of two years to recover from the damage, and a three-year recovery time is more likely,” said John Roussel, an assistant secretary in the fisheries office.

The CRS report also said that “with the decline of oyster harvest from the Mid-Atlantic region, the Gulf Coast has been supplying most of the recent domestic oyster harvest,” and that “oyster beds and oyster vessels along the Gulf Coast were extensively damaged, if not totally destroyed, by siltation and contamination related to Katrina.”

Mr. Roussel said the CRS report was the first federal analysis of overall storm-related losses for commercial and recreational fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. CRS, a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, is the public policy research arm of the U.S. Congress.

Its report, based largely on state and anecdotal evidence, points out that, since Katrina, “many areas have been closed to fishing because of pollution-related contamination concerns.”

The report estimates that Louisiana’s losses from oysters alone will reach $300 million over two years, while those for shrimp could approach $540 million in just one year.

Shrimp fishing in the U.S., according to the report, was in decline even before Katrina “due to competition from less expensive foreign imports.” Citing high fuel costs involved in shrimp trawling and underwater debris obstacles that remain from the storm, the report says shrimpers will find it difficult to resume operations.

“In the coming weeks, we hope to document oyster mortality,” which was coupled with “severe damage” to that industry’s infrastructure, Mr. Roussel said.

He said extensive damage occurred to the whole seafood industry’s infrastructure, including harvesting vessels, docks and processing facilities.

Oysters are often the aquatic creatures hardest-hit by hurricanes, because unlike shrimp and fish, they cannot move to get out of the way of storms.

“We assumed (an almost complete) oyster mortality based on our experiences with Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and with Hurricane Ivan last year,” Mr. Roussel said.

Even if some live, untainted oysters are found, he said, fishermen “might not be able to harvest them,” given the nearly-total destruction of industry infrastructure.

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