NEW ORLEANS, La.
Louisiana health officials reopened two prime oyster areas Friday to give harvesters a chance to gather as many oysters as they can ahead of a Gulf of Mexico oil slick that has been spreading west from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“It’ll keep the wolf away from the door for a number of people,” Al Sunseri, co-owner of P&J Oyster Co. in the French Quarter, said of the move by the Department of Health and Hospitals. He said he had been close to running out of oysters to shuck for restaurants in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.
“I know I’ll have oysters to open through next Wednesday,” Sunseri said.
Sunseri and Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, both said the areas that reopened Friday are among the state’s more productive oyster areas. The openings will beef up state oyster production Pearce said had dropped to about 40 percent of its pre-spill levels.
Both areas are west of the Mississippi River: Area 9 in Plaquemines Parish, which was closed May 11; and Area 13 spanning parts of Lafourche and Jefferson parishes, which closed May 10.
Later Friday, officials said they were reopening another oyster bed – Area 7 – which is east of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish at sunrise Saturday.
In all, nine of the state’s 28 oyster areas were closed as of Friday. State health officials said all of the oyster closures have been precautionary in light of the threat from the oil. But no oil has intruded in the beds so far.
For 2008, the last year for which figures are available, the seafood board said 207 million pounds of oysters were hauled out of Louisiana waters – more than 36 percent of all oysters landed in the United States and nearly 62 percent of all Gulf of Mexico landings.
Pearce said he hopes the state will be able to temporarily open other areas as efforts to keep the oil away from coast continue.
In announcing the temporary opening of areas 9 and 13, Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals stressed that it has beefed up its regular tests of oysters and oyster waters.
“DHH scientists and engineers are conducting enhanced testing of oyster meat taken from the closed beds to monitor the presence of oil. Oysters being harvested in areas open for harvesting have been deemed safe by DHH,” DHH said in a news release.
Oil is leaking at an official estimate of at least 210,000 gallons a day from a well about 50 miles southeast of Venice. The Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP PLC, exploded April 20 and sank two days later.