Some oyster fishermen expect terrible season

Published: Aug. 2, 2013 at 2:14 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 2, 2013 at 12:53 PM CDT
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Pointe a la Hache, La. - Oyster fishermen on the east bank of the river expect the worst season they've ever seen this year. For businesses still recovering from the oil spill, the news is especially grim.

Over in Hopedale, Robin Seafood fishermen are staying as busy as they can by tagging the few sacks of oysters they're able to bring in.

"We don't have the growth of oysters that we normally have," said Don Robin.

Usually they can fill a tractor-trailer of oysters a day. Now, they're lucky to fill a quarter of a truck.

They came in with 20 small sacs and 40 big sacs. That's 30 percent of what they usually do, and they only had two boats bringing it all in when they normally have seven.

However, the fishermen in Hopedale with private leases know they're luckier than those in Pointe a la Hache who fish in what used to be prime state beds.

Byron Encalade hasn't been able to fish for oysters since the oil spill.

"That's the scary part," said Encalade, "that we're just not seeing the recovery yet in some areas."

Encalade is on the Oyster Fisherman Task Force which reports to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Wednesday, the group went over the oyster stock assessment for the year.

"I tell you it was some of the worse news we've ever had in our life," said Encalade.

He says biologists reported that there are no signs of reproduction in areas like Black Bay.

Since it normally takes three years to grow a marketable oyster, it could be 2016 before Encalade and the oyster fishermen on the east bank of the river are back to work.

"You've been doing it for generations and generations... how do you walk away from it? And then, where do you go?" Encalade said. "For the first time, we're seeing a community that has always been able to survive, that, they're just sitting there without hope."

However, Encalade and fishermen like Don Robin aren't giving up. They're trying new techniques to speed up the oyster growing process and stay busy.

"You put everything you have into your beds and hope that you start growing oysters and have a future. It's a gamble, but I guess it's the best investment for us is to go ahead and try to get your beds going again," said Robin.