Our Views: Oyster prices hit diners

A real crisis has many fathers, and the blame-shifting for high oyster prices goes around considerably.

Prices are hitting between $45 and $62 per sack, depending on quality, said an Alabama dealer that buys across the Gulf Coast markets. And that, Chris Nelson told The Associated Press, is with many oysters being sold in smaller sacks.

Oyster beds were closed in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill that devastated fisheries and tourism along the Gulf Coast, but the company argues that four years later, the blame has to be placed on many other factors — although marine biologists aren’t so sure.

The truth is that there are many reasons for this problem. We don’t want to let BP completely off the hook, but there’s no question that overfishing and freshwater intrusion have a great impact on oyster production.

It is a cyclical business, officials have told The Advocate as the post-spill situation has been assessed, but there is not much doubt that landings of oysters, shrimp and crabs were down, sometimes dramatically. Some scientists, noting the long-lived effects of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, say it’s too early to assess the full impact on fisheries of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

That said, in some cases, the number of oystermen working the reefs varies considerably from year to year, too.

Part of the goal of the state’s giant coastal restoration plan is a more robust environment for fisheries and for oyster reefs. Yet there are bound to be differing impacts on different parts of the state’s large coastal regions — even with the intention of doing good.

The principal method for restoring coastal wetlands is freshwater diversions, to mimic the ancient dispersal of sediments by a free-flowing Mississippi of earlier ages. But freshwater hits oyster beds hard, and the balancing of those interests will be a challenge.

Public oyster reefs in Louisiana produced just under 1 million pounds of meat in 2013, up from the drastically low harvests of 2012. That’s about a third or a fourth of the traditional production.

For lovers of oysters, and there are many of us in Louisiana, it’s a Labor Day crisis, whatever its ultimate cause — or, more likely, causes.