Katrina Shucks Oyster Industry

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

September 7, 2005

If you like your seafood on the half shell you'd better get oysters while you can. At least that's what some seafood restaurants are saying. Hurricane Katrina devastated the seafood industry along the gulf coast, but can it really wipe out the industry in our area?

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 80% of the oysters grown in the United States alone, and when Katrina came ashore, it wiped out some of those oyster beds, causing consumers to be alarmed.

Hurricane Katrina may whisk oysters right off the menu. The seafood industry is one of the hardest hit. Bill O'Bier knows first hand. He is a seafood wholesaler that sells to shops and restaurants all over Charlottesville, including Andersons.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to more than 80 percent of oysters grown in the United States. He's having a hard time getting in contact with those oyster suppliers.

"A lot of the places that they harvest oysters at the boats are gone, the docks are gone, the warehouses where they stored them are gone. It just totally wiped out the whole industry down there," said Bill O'Bier, the President of the Pride of Virginia Seafood Wholesalers.

O'Bier was able to get a small amount of oysters from Alabama this week, but no one knows when the next shipment from the Gulf will be.

"It's still going to make things really tight during the holidays as far as getting enough for everybody. It's just not going to be a good year as far as oyster sales, it's going to hurt everybody," said O'Bier.

Experts said it's not just oysters. Other fish including shrimp are scarce, which makes the seafood shop raise their prices and eventually that trickles down to the consumer.

"The Gulf sets the prices. They set the shrimp prices, the oyster prices, so if the Gulf is not operating everyone else is going up on their prices," said Jean Anderson, of Anderson's Seafood.

While oyster costs have already gone up at Andersons store, she is hopeful. "They're predicting by Christmas a quart of oysters will cost as much as $30, but I don't agree with that, I think they're going to clean it up before then," said Anderson.

Louisiana oyster fisheries are expected to be out of commission until further notice. Officials say the impact on Louisiana's $2.6 billion seafood industry will continue to be severe.

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