Oyster fishermen report low catches since opening of Bonnet Carre Spillway

Oyster industry hurting from Bonne Carre Spillway water

METAIRIE, La. (WVUE) - Fishermen across the state wait for word from the federal government on whether they'll get help in dealing with what they call a crisis - freshwater from the spillway impacting crabs, shrimp and oysters.

One businessman who owns several oyster restaurants across the area worries about their future.

It was a busy lunch at Acme Oyster House Tuesday afternoon (June 18), as trays of oysters flew off the shucking station.

However, CEO Paul Rotner said he worries how long he can continue serving up fresh and chargrilled oysters. Oyster fishermen across the state are complaining of low catches that they blame on the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

“What it’s doing is pushing a lot of freshwater into the beds that are all east of the Mississippi River, and causing a lot of death in those oysters, causing them to be very frail,” Rotner said.

He said Acme restaurants get their oysters mostly east of the river in St. Bernard Parish, which he says is being hit hard.

"We're finding dead stock in all of these areas currently, and there's a lot of the fishermen who have leases in these areas are shutting them down because the oysters are very fragile right now, because of the freshwater," Rotner said.

Which is why Governor John Bel Edwards submitted a declaration to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Monday.

"NOAA then, if they agree with the data and make that emergency declaration, they submit that to Congress so that they can begin the appropriation process so that we can make some payments to the fishermen who are adversely impacted," Edwards said.

Alfred Sunseri, the president of P&J Oyster Company said he processes oysters he gets from west of the Mississippi River and said he’s not seeing an impact yet.

“There’s not an issue with less oysters. I think we’re going to start finding that there’s going to be a little bit more mortality as time goes on,” Sunseri said.

He said spillway openings typically have good long-term effects for fisheries after an initial impact.

However, that's something that fishermen will have to wait and see.

"You need to have that brackish water come in and hope that the oysters will spawn and get a set, and that's what we used to see a lot. I haven't seen that kind of bounce back since before the oil spill," Sunseri said.

In the emergency declaration, Governor Edwards said the most recent oyster reefs of St. Bernard parish indicated a mortality rate of 14 percent up to 100 percent in some areas.

The Bonnet Carre Spillway is expected to stay open for another month.

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