Fisherman Randy Slavich drags a clunky metal net through an underwater oyster bed in Lake Machias, a brackish body opening into the Gulf of Mexico. For generations, this has been a bountiful lake for harvesting oysters, long before millions of gallons of oil spilled off Louisiana’s coast in the 2010 BP oil spill.
On this day, Slavich’s cage-like net pulls up dozens of empty, lifeless oyster shells.
“It’s not good,” he said, shaking his head as he pushed the shells back into the water. “We’ve never seen it like this, not out here.”
Gulf Coast oyster harvests have declined dramatically in the four years since a BP PLC oil well blew wild in the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. Even after a modest rebound last year, thousands of acres of oyster beds where oil from the well washed ashore are producing less than a third of their pre-spill harvest.
Most worrisome to Slavich is the dearth of oyster larvae — future generations of oysters — once found in abundance on shells in the lake, east of the muddy bends of the Mississippi River.
Whether the spill contributed to the decline is part of an ongoing study; hurricanes, overfishing and influxes of oyster-killing fresh water had already put pressure on the industry.
“To the extent that oyster populations are down, data from government studies have indicated it is likely due to other conditions,” Geoff Morrell, a BP senior vice president, said in a statement.
The millions of gallons of oil that spewed into the Gulf caused fishing grounds to be closed for fear the oil and the chemical dispersant used to break it up would make seafood inedible, either by direct ingestion of the substances by marine life or by tainting the food chain. More visible were the oil-covered dolphins, birds and other sea life that either died in the oil or required rescue and scrubbing to clean away the oil.
From the Christian Science Monitor