Shortage of Gulf Oysters Threatens Southern Culinary Heritage
Flooding along the Mississippi River this spring and summer killed oysters by the millions.
In Louisiana, normally the nation's largest oyster-producing state, months of severe weather have caused shortages of the beloved bivalve. According to The New York Times, flooding along the Mississippi River—swollen by Midwestern rain and snow throughout the spring and summer—overwhelmed coastal marshes, lakes, and bays with freshwater, and killed oysters by the millions.
Oysters, which have been cheap and abundant in the Gulf Coast region for centuries, are central to the area's restaurant and cooking culture.
As the Times reports, shortages and soaring prices have led some Gulf Coast raw bars to replace local oysters with ones from other regions, though many are reluctant to do so, in large part due to regional pride.
"I have nothing against those other oysters," explained Steve Pettus, a managing partner of the restaurant group Dickie Brennan & Company, which owns Bourbon House in New Orleans, "but they're not ours."
And the situation, experts warn, is only getting worse. And the fact that oysters take two to three years to reach market size means that it could take years for Gulf oysters to rebound.
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Losses reported so far for this season are already so severe "that we're likely to not remain the largest oyster producer in the United States," Patrick Banks, an assistant secretary in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told the Times.
In fact, in September, the United States Department of Commerce determined that Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi were suffering "a catastrophic regional fishery disaster," making businesses in those states eligible for federal assistance.
There is concern that if the higher prices persist Gulf oysters could become a luxury item unavailable to the average diner.
"Oysters are just becoming unaffordable," Tommy Cvitanovich, the owner of Drago's, told the paper. "People need to start thinking about another dressing for their turkeys."