On June 1, 2010, SoFAB Director Liz Williams spent the day on an oyster boat out of Grand Isle. Her thoughts follow.
Visiting the closed oyster beds around Grand Isle, Louisiana was a bittersweet experience. Seeing and hearing about the brave adaptations being made by the oystermen who cannot harvest their own beds. People who are selling retail from the few beds that are open in order to make ends meet. Closed restaurants and curtailed menus are everywhere.
Yet the water is calm – covered by pelicans and gulls – flying and diving over the surface. Dolphins lazily rise for a breath. It is so peaceful, that it is hard to associate the scene with the turmoil of emotions that are boiling up because of the oil spill in the Gulf Mexico. The only hint at the oil that had been in and out of the bay a week earlier was a bit of visible oil clinging to marsh grass here and there. That was enough to make me feel the grip of concern in the pit of my stomach. It made the spill real to a person in the city who only has indirect evidence of the problem.
The very special people who are in the oyster industry are the guardians of our coast. The very act of protecting and cultivating their beds creates a protective barrier against storms that helps us all. That way of life and those protectors are at risk. In spite of this they good-naturedly took a group of us out in their boat and brought up oysters. We ate them warm and fresh right on the boat. The oysters are threatened by oily tides that may come, as well as by the fresh water lowering the salinity of the bay. That fresh water is being diverted to the bay by the state of Louisiana in an attempt to keep the oil from coming into the bay. It may be the fresh water that kills the oysters, not the oil. All of the ironies, all of the uncoordinated actions, everything is culminating in a threat to the oysters.
I enjoyed the oyster festival this past weekend in New Orleans, celebrating the oyster, the oyster farmers and the chefs. I can only hope that it is the first of many such festivals.
Photos from Liz’s Adventure