Fishermen waiting to see how Mid-Barataria project impacts industry

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 8:32 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 8:36 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Plaquemines parish residents and fishermen wonder what’s next, now that the state has broken ground on the mid-Barataria diversion project. the coastal protection authority allocated nearly $400 million to deal with the impacts of the $3 billion Diversion, but some wonder if the plan goes far enough.

READ MORE Massive Mid-Barataria Diversion Project breaks ground

For more than 70 years, Felix’s oyster bar in the French Quarter has served as an oyster oasis for locals and tourists.

The oysters now cost around $25 a dozen and some worry that they could become even scarcer and more expensive because of this.

Three weeks ago, the state broke ground on the $3 billion mid-Barataria diversion project, and while environmentalists celebrated-fishermen grieved.

“When they threw that shovel of dirt, I felt like I was in my coughing with the dirt hitting me in my face,” said oysterman and Plaquemines Parish Councilman Mitch Jurisich.

People who make their living off of the salty bay, fear the infusion of 75,000 ft.³ per second of fresh Mississippi River water into the bay, the same flow rate as Niagara Falls. many believe it will kill fish and dolphins as well as productive oyster beds.

“When you open these gates, in less than six months, we are projecting zero salinity. That’s not good for anything, shrimp, Crab, or anything we harvest in the Barataria area basin,” said Jurisich.

The CPRA does not deny there will be impacts

From the diversion, but says it has a $400 million plan to help everyone from property owners to fishermen.

“One of the things would be to establish new public seed grounds in areas of the Bay that are now too salty but a diversion might be just right,” said Bren Haase, who heads CPRA.

Of the $400 million pledged by the state for diversion impacts, $35 million has been allocated for relocating oyster beds, a Process, which can take up to 5 years.

“We are already at the extreme limits to go beyond doesn’t work because we’ve already done it,” said Jurisich.

While oystermen brace for the impacts, the state’s oyster industry is nowhere near what it once was.

Oyster production is said to be only about one-fifth what it was before the BP oil spill in part because some oystermen took large multi-million dollar settlements, then stopped cultivating.

“The BP thing, changed things, in far more ways than environmental, changed the mindset on productivity,” said Al Sunseri, with P and J Oysters, who also serves on the La. Oyster task force.

Then there are the dolphins.

The CPRA allocated $60 million to protect or relocate dolphins who could die, get sick, or be driven out by the freshwater.

“We’re working with our partners at NOAA, which regulates, marine mammals, and the Audobon Institute to develop a statewide stranding network to respond to potential stranded dolphins,” said Haase.

When it comes to shrimpers, the state plans to provide money to help improve their gear and onboard refrigeration, since they will likely have to go out farther to make quotas.

“Things like improving vessels, we don’t presume to know what is best assistant individual shrimp or business but we will make funds available close to $20 million,” said Haase.

Not all of the mitigation money is going to fishermen. the diversion is also expected to raise water levels in Barataria Bay, and adjoining waterways like here at Myrtle Grove, and some mitigation money will be used to help property owners raise the height of their properties and bulkheads.

“When the diversion is running, it’s going to raise water levels in the bay. It will have some impact,” said Haase.

Roy Mills says Highwater is already plaguing his Myrtle Grove neighborhood of raised homes, and he fears projections that the diversion will raise that level as much as 2 feet and will turn his dream home into a nightmare.

“If they offer us what we need, we will probably let it go,” said Mills.

Mitch Jurisich says the ouster mitigation fund will not be enough.

“What’s 26 million gonna do in a one-time payout, we’re looking at a 50 million a year industry, or better,” Jurisich said.

But CPRA promises millions of dollars to reestablish public oyster seed beds further south.

“You will have productive oyster areas in regions of the basin that were likely productive when our grandfathers and great grandfathers for fishing oysters in the basin,” said Haase.

CPRA officials don’t deny that there could be short-term pain, but they say it’s necessary to preserve coastal Louisiana for the long term, though the results could take years to realize.

The Coastal Protection Authority is working with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to develop mitigation programs for fishermen. when it comes to oysters, they say a lot will depend on what happens in real-time, however, they say they have done some modeling to determine where new productive areas will be formed.

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